‘Buhay Pa Tayo’ last entry on her blog
By Volt Contreras
Last updated 05:13am (Mla time) 04/20/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- The last time she shared her tales from the Philippines to folks back home, US Peace Corps volunteer and former New York Times journalist Julia Campbell wrote poignantly that life, after all its tragic episodes, must move on.
That message now seems addressed to those who are mourning her shocking death.
“Buhay Pa Tayo” (We’re Still Alive) was the title of the last blog entry dated Jan. 13, 2007, a piece recalling how she and the rest of the people of Legazpi City in Albay province survived the flash floods unleashed by “Supertyphoon Reming” in November last year that left 900 people dead or missing.
That she used the pronoun “We” -- not “They” -- could reflect how deeply immersed she had become in the Filipino community where she was assigned, where Filipino culture both shocked and amused her, and where she gathered fond memories with the poor.
“I don’t think I could ever forget them,” she said, reporting about her encounter with some of the Reming evacuees in a tent city in Padang. She herself thought “I’ll drown right here,” after she got caught in waist-deep waters inside her own apartment.
The blog site loosely chronicled her “adventure” in the country since she was sent here two years ago. She said the site was “for those of you who could not be convinced to follow me into the Peace Corps.”
With the first post made in April 2005, the text would run up to around 40 pages if printed out.
It followed her during her stays with different “host” families in Los Baños, Laguna; Donsol, Sorsogon, and finally in Legazpi, Albay. There were sidetrips to Manila, which she described as “a city of great potential but lacking in so much.”
Campbell proved she was not only a humanitarian worker but also a devoted writer (often apologizing to readers for the long gaps between posts) and a keen observer of people and local color.
Often writing about her many “firsts,” she charted her progress in learning Tagalog, recalled riding jeepneys with buckets of live fish and gossipy co-passengers, and wondered why champorado,” a soupy chocolate rice concoction,” was eaten with dried salted fish.
She was amused at how Filipino men “drink in circles” outdoors; how dogs in her neighborhood served as her alarm clock; how a Catholic priest “blessed even my bathroom” when she had her own hut built near her host family in Donsol.
She discovered how the Philippines had become known as the “texting capital” of the world.
By May 2006, her Tagalog had apparently improved to the point that she translated a stanza of Aiza Seguerra’s love song “Pagdating ng Panahon.” She recalled scoring a perfect “100” when she sang it on a videoke machine.
‘This is all worth it’
“There are moments when I feel this is all worth it,” she wrote in August 2005.
“To stumble across a charming fishing village in a foreign land and come out of it having made a new friend. It’s a simple life here, off the beaten paths, where I find the most solace.
“It’s the little things too that make me laugh when I’m feeling homesick -- like watching two men pull a goat behind a motorcycle. Or the thought that I’m regularly eating squid, eyeballs and all. Or when the house helper, Edna, starts belting out ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ by Madonna in a very imperfect English.”
But then, her constant encounters with rural poverty dominated her blog.
She found the “American Dream, Filipino-style,” in Jason, a high school graduate who wanted to become a nurse, thinking it would be his ”best chance of finding a job in America.”
“It’s a lot of pressure on a 17-year-old kid,” Campbell said. ”This somehow seems unfair.”
Time: Why Pinoys are left behind
Campbell saw what the notorious “Filipino time” meant when, she recalled, some local officials whom she tried to help acquire weighing scales for a nutrition program “missed the deadline” for requesting a budget from UNICEF.
The cause: They didn’t draft a project proposal despite being told of this requirement well ahead of time.
Of this she further observed: “Many Filipinos live on what they laughingly refer to as Filipino time. Unfortunately, I think this is the very reason why they are falling behind the rest of the world. They are living in a different time zone.”
Witnessing the state of the local education system, she recalled entering a school library where she could not find a book published after 1978, and “the kids here don’t get much in the way of literature. The teachers are used to teaching grammar, not reading.”
“There’s a bigger world outside Donsol, right?” she mused, recalling how local “adults” once asked her “if England is on the same continent as the United States.”
Upside down, inside out
“It is really amazing to be living in such a sheltered place at the end of the road, literally. It really turns your sense of self baliktad (upside-down, inside out)!”
Campbell herself got candid about her own personal discomforts. She wrote in February 2006: “It gets harder and harder sometimes to express in words the things I experience here.”
“But life becomes somewhat normal once you live in a place for a while. Even if you live in a hut, without running water, and your evenings are spent hauling your water by the bucket, gutting your fish and picking the bok-bok (rut) out of your bed.”
In October 2006, with seven more months to go in her tour of duty, Campbell wrote about missing her family and “my old life.” “It’s been a rough road and I am hoping to finish, but I would be lying if I did not say that every day is a struggle.”
“Time will hopefully fly quickly.”
Early this week, with the discovery of Campbell’s body in Banaue, time instead froze for everyone whose lives she had touched in two countries.
Julia remembered as hard-charging journalist
Last updated 05:13am (Mla time) 04/20/2007
NEW YORK -- Julia Campbell was no stranger to adventurous exploits.
As a journalist in New York City, she was a tenacious reporter, at one point getting arrested covering the funeral procession of rapper Notorious B.I.G. She once cut short a date after coming across a crime scene so she could report on the story.
Her adventurous spirit later took her to the Philippines, where she served as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was there that her body was discovered Wednesday in a shallow grave, unearthed by a stray dog more than a week after she disappeared while hiking.
“She was a fearless reporter,” said David Kocieniewski, a New York Times reporter who was bureau chief when Campbell was a full-time freelancer for The Times at police headquarters. “She was intelligent, incredibly hardworking and had the capacity both to ask intellectually tough questions and to be sensitive to the people we were writing about.”
Journalists who worked with Campbell during the years she spent freelancing for The New York Times, Court TV and other news organizations remembered her generosity and courage.
Police in the Philippines at first thought the 40-year-old might have fallen off a cliff while hiking alone in Ifugao province. But after her body was found in the grave, they said they believed foul play was involved.
“I’m absolutely jolted,” said Bill Hoffmann, a columnist for the New York Post’s Page Six gossip section who briefly dated Campbell. “I remember her as not having a mean bone in her body. She was a real sweetheart, and yet she was deceptive -- she was very dogged and determined like a bulldog.”
Hoffmann said he and Campbell were on a date once when they happened upon a crime scene. A gunman was loose and police had blocked off a street. Campbell immediately called The Times newsroom and started working the story.
Michael Cooper, a Times reporter now based in Albany, New York, also described his former colleague as dogged.
“When doing street reporting, she was always sure to ring the 10th doorbell, not just leave after a few,” said Cooper, who worked with Campbell at police headquarters.
After The Times, Campbell worked for People magazine, Star magazine, Court TV and FoxNews.com.
“She loved being a reporter,” said Liz McNeil, East Coast news editor for People. “She was very dedicated and had a lot of compassion.”
Campbell made headlines in 1997 during her stint at The Times when she was arrested covering the funeral procession of Christopher Wallace, also known as Notorious B.I.G.
The procession turned unruly and Campbell got in a shouting match with police, who had her handcuffed and dragged away. According to the police report, Campbell called one officer “a bastard.”
The Times protested the arrest, though metro editor Michael Oreskes acknowledged that Campbell’s “use of harsh language was not appropriate.” Disorderly conduct charges were eventually dropped.
Campbell wrote in her blog that “At the age of 38, I decided to step out of the rat race of New York, join the Peace Corps and board a plane for Manila.” Associated Press