Monday, January 26, 2009

Take A Break, Have A Coke

Not that I harbour diabetes but I must admit Coca-Cola never fails to establish itself by launching campaign TVCs; boob tube not so boo boo afterall. It was not so long ago, about 2004, when most of Filipinos were enchanted by this young girl and her knapsack that "magically" dispenses unlimited supply of Coke bottles (kinda reminds me of Mary Poppins). Not to mention that song that made me slow down, stop at this very moment and say to myself: "Pre, take it easy."

As a kid I had this notion that a Coke bottle on a dining table is for special occasions or whenever our family is on a festive mood; always looking forward to that Sunday lunch, the whole family sitting together and one Litro of Coke. That's why I find the idea of giving out Coke as a way of saying "hello" nostalgic. It is also a symbolic gesture of reminding us to take a break and, of course with this TVC, have a refreshing drink. Good advertising eh? But then, it did not escaped me to notice that the whole TVC is a tapestry of Filipinos and the different facets of their everyday lives: middle-class work, religion (one can see a Muslim and a typical elderly Christian), relationships (lovers' quarrel), manual labor, education, adolescence and childhood. All of these in one flawless, continuous shot; the details and texture of downtown Manila perfectly recreated. I am impressed with Thierry Notz for the direction (he made the same with McDo's Karen & Lolo TVC). I believe he surpassed other versions of this global ad campaign of Coca-Cola. Though not Filipino himself, he sure knows the way to a Filipino's heart.

Here are the other versions (North and Latin American's) of the global ad campaign. Notice how they are very much alike from the street corner-turning to a man in the garbage bin and from that scooter to that parked car.


Another Coca-Cola TVC. This time on the best "pick-up line" ever. :)

GMT 0 Accra, Ghana

Saturday, January 24, 2009

On Side-effects and Vivid Dreams

This is the last night of my 3-day treatment on Malaria, and I'm still a bit of unsure whether I have one in the first place. My lab test result, afterall, yielded negative infection from any of the Plasmodium parasites but the doctor prescribed the treatment nevertheless. Tomorrow I will be starting the prophylaxis; the one thing I should have done before coming here. It would be a weekly regimen; a regimen also shared by soldiers on a mission and peace corps. I have been sifting through the internet on some experiences when one is taking antimalarial and there is one thing in common: side-effects. Well I guess most of the modern world medications have side-effects. I remember this joke of a salesman who offered a man a drug to relieve the latter's headache but the salesman warned that it has a side-effect in which it will be relieved by another drug yet with a side-effect of its own. The story goes on with drugs and their side-effects only to find out that the last drug offered has headache as the side-effect. Funny because one of Malaria's symptoms is headache and so as one of Coartem's side-effects. Now I can't tell which is which. Interestingly one of antimalarial side-effects is vivid dreams. I thought it's a Neverland-Care Bears sort of thing but apparently it is a euphemism to nightmares. As per my research, it is exclusively valid to antimalarial with Mefloquine as the base drug (i.e. Lariam; Roche don't sue me, this is a personal blog). So I frantically drew the one I have. Pyrimethamine. Ok, the only side-effect I have to worry now is being folic acid deficient. But then, last night I had this "vivid dream".

There was this one "crazy" black dog that used to be part of my childhood phobia. I well remember her name, Blanka. She was one of our neighbor's dogs and it was a great effort everytime I have to bring a share of our media noche to their house. I would call out my kababata to escort me inside their house; it would be rude if I don't personally give the food and of course it's a tradition for them to give something in return. I don't know where it all started but I remember her to be the one who rallied up all the dogs in the subdivision to madly chase me to exhaustion; virtually strapping me to a coconut tree. Imagine the humiliation and trauma of a seven-year-old. I used to believe that she was the leader of the dog mafia in our subdivision back then so in order to save my bones, I have to avoid her. And believe me, during that time I could recognize her bark anywhere. She died when I was in high school. Poor creature but I thought it saved my adolescent years. But then last night she was reincarnated: same black hair, menacing eyes and those canine fangs! Weird enough, I was back to the same street of that fateful day. Everything was fast. One second she was on the far-side of the street, the next she was right in front of me. And she bit my left hand! I awoke. I don't know if I gave a loud cry but one thing I did was to check my left hand if it was still there. I felt the bite as if it was real; as if it was torn away from the rest of my arm. How vivid can you get with that? Maybe it was just a coincidence that I got that nightmare. I'm not taking Mefloquine and I checked the ones I'm taking and they definitely don't have vivid dreams as part of the undesirable list.

I don't know what I'll be getting tonight but I hope it has nothing to do with leeches!


I came across this short film on

After years of yearning to go to Africa, Joan’s three-month stint as a Peace Corps volunteer turns sour on Christmas Eve when she is 'psychevac'd' back to the states and admitted to Georgetown Hospital mental ward. The drug required by the Peace Corps to be taken as a protection against malaria is said to cause only vivid dreams, but no one mentions the other side effects of psychotic tendencies, including suicide and murder.

GMT 0 Accra, Ghana

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Meeting Malaria

And that's the last thing I want to while I'm here in Africa.

Well there's no one to blame but me. Knowing that Malaria is endemic here, I should have taken prophylactic measure before going. I had my first blood test taken last month and it turned out to be negative. It was a relief. I even attempted to laminate the test result. Then I started to think that I am just being paranoid; maybe fatigue is due to overwork and chills is due to aircon running overnight. Plus the fact that I learned later that one Pinay died after going home. If I were in the Philippines, flu-like symptoms might just be a flu. But being in Sub-Saharan Africa one can not just dismiss the fact that this might be something else. It was since last weekend that I again feel exhausted and dizzy. Even sleeping a significant amount of hours on a Sunday didn't take away the discomfort. Though I will always think of Malaria, the lab test seems to be a psychological treatment; looking on a "No malaria parasites seen" statement alleviates worries. So I said to myself that I will just observe. Lab test doesn't come cheap. Then last Tuesday early morning I was waken and found myself shivering with some abdominal pain. I could feel twitches on some parts of my body. It was like some kind of Gremlin trying to get out of my muscles (if you watched the movie, you get the point). And I was palpitating (no Starbucks planner in Africa, take note). Not to mention my head in twice the gravity pull and my urge to throw up. You might want to laugh at me but at that point I unlocked the door of my room in case I might not wake up later that day; we have a household help that regularly cleans the room by the way. There were no life moments flashing before my eyes so it was no "time's up" for me then. But it was an hour or so of pangs, delusional or not. I managed to go back to sleep though; waken later by the alarm on my mobile. No more pain. The hot shower seemed to washed away a bad dream. But then I decided to have myself checked again. If before I went to a clinic in a mall, this time I went to a hospital just to make sure I am getting the right diagnosis.

The result? No parasites found. Ok, it was a relief again. But there was a catch. My white blood this is what has been prescribed to me as antimalarial treatmentcells (WBC) count is nearing the higher mark for normal. Learning from my high school Biology, WBC is like my inner army against invaders; in this case, the Plasmodium parasite. Yes, malaria is not caused by a virus or strain of bacteria; it is caused by a parasite (I guess Malacanang can be diagnosed with malaria on its highest stage). The doctor said that this is an indication that something's going on inside me since the immune system is preparing for a battle. To be honest, I was a little skeptical on that diagnosis. But the symptoms are just hard to ignore. Maybe the parasites haven't been released to the blood to infect the red blood cells. You see, malaria in humans develops via two phases: it infects the liver first where they multiply for up to 15 days then they all go swimming in the blood stream. If left untreated, it will result to severe complications. And we have the ever-charming female mosquitos to thank for. So the doctor prescribed me a "treatment" drug. As per its leaflet, the drug is "a treatment for adults, children and infants with acute, uncomplicated infections due to P. falciparum." WTF! P. falciparum is said to be the most fatal and I am having a drug for that??! But then, this specie of Plasmodium parasite is still curable and I thanked God that I am having it (maybe) on its earliest stage. Of all the prescriptions I got so far in my life, this has been the one I really strictly followed: 4 tablets on the first take then 4 tablets 8 hours later (I have to wake up early for this; the thing I failed on other prescriptions). Then 4 tablets twice a day for the succeeding days (it means every 12 hours). The key for effective treatment is proper absorption of the dose so I need food intake first and it is recommended to intake food or drink rich in fat such as milk. If I really do have those bastard parasites I need to eradicate them once and for all. But it comes with side-effects like anorexia (me and less appetite?), sleep disorders, dizziness and cough. Just today I had a half-day work and making myself concentrate on those figures and numbers on my computer screen was great effort. Well, rather than go home in a wooden box.

So, for my fellow travelers heed my advice: have the necessary precautions when going to places where malaria is endemic. There is no vaccine developed so far but as per medical advice, take antimalarial drugs 1 week before the travel, continue the regimen while in a risk area and end the treatment one or more weeks after leaving the area. Malaria is present in Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe. Note, however, that these drugs will not prevent the parasites from entering the body but do prevent or supress the symptoms caused by the parasites. Afterall, they are parasites. That is the main reason why prevention by controlling, if not eliminating, is a major concern for those countries that are endemic. It means a war on mosquitos. I bet these pesky insects are contemplating in a Purpose Driven Life sort of way.

Distribution of Malaria: dark coloured means high risk

Note also that not all drugs are effective on a certain endemic area so one should consult with a physician on what drug is best suited for the travel plan. These parasites are part of the animal kingdom and they evolve; later being resistant to most of antimalarials in the market. In the Sub-Saharan Africa P. falciparum is the most common. The physician prescribed me Coartem (by Novartis; generic name: artemether-lumefantrin) for the treatment then Daraprim (by GlaxoSmithKline; generic name: pyrimethamine) for prophylaxis. So I guess these are the antimalarial drugs suited for this area. Moreso, one can use repellants when going out. Mosquitos always have feeding frenzy during dusk and dawn. So watch out!

Meeting malaria is serious but is not a reason for panic. Hey, even HIV can be treated on its early stage (though in our society, accepting that one has HIV is a different story). Malaria is both preventable and curable. Sad to say but there are still millions of people, mostly children, die because of this. My consultation, lab test and medications cost me about USD65. Lucky for me I have this to spare (there's a probability that I can even reimburse this thru my medical insurance). How about those who have none; barely making USD2 per day? In the news, the conflict-stricken Zimbabwe is nearing a Malaria outbreak on top of the worsening cholera and HIV. Prevention fails when tools for it are out of reach. We can help:

After this treatment, I should start prophylaxis so as to prevent future infections. It means that when I come home the month after next I should continue taking antimalarial agent for 4 weeks just to be sure. That was the unfortunate lapse of that Pinay who died because of malaria – shrugging off the eventuality.

It will always hold true that prevention is better than cure, and that was my own lapse.

GMT 0 Accra, Ghana

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Seventh Heaven Co.

For the Jewish, Muslim and other cabalist system, seventh heaven is the farthest of the concentric spheres containing the stars and constituting the dwelling place of God and the angels. It became synonymous to a state of great joy and satisfaction; a bliss, cloud nine and euphoria.

And it was no coincidence that this was once an idea not only for a business venture but the next level of friendship.

I've written my last blog in response to a photo of 7 people who tried to make "a better life" without even going abroad (though we are all planning to anyway). I'm re-archiving files in my laptop last night and there it was as colorful as before; clouds behind our backs. Then today Joya prompted me in YM and it was she who reminded me of this small group of entrepreneurs-to-be. It was a night after work on the last day of August 2007. We had this business idea and Heaven N' Eggs served as our place of brainstorming. Well actually we tried to get some ideas there. Too bad that resto in Glorietta 4 was renovated to a new layout.

Joya was right, that night was already a sign. We had different shades of shirts, and on the walls were clouds and famous landmarks around the world (Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Holland Windmills etc.). Sure enough, a week after one of us left. Every month after that one would follow. Come December 2007 when only 4 of us were remaining, maybe with a stroke of fate, we found ourselves aboard on one of the last flights of the year. Today we are now scattered all around the globe, spanning the continents. Indeed, looking on this photo makes me miss the good ol' days and wonder when will this exact pose is going to be reprised. I will look forward to that day.

It was a business meeting so I didn't detailed what had transpired.
But I know someday a new company is likely to rise; clouds behind its back.

GMT 0 Accra, Ghana

Saturday, January 17, 2009

For A Better Life

One year ago, when the world was on a countdown, I was there sitting up in the night sky. While the world danced and sang merriments, I was there strapped in the rigidity of my seat. While the world was spellbound by fireworks, I was there confined and confounded. There was mixture of feelings, and with the high altitude pressure it became an unrecognizable concoction. For any neophyte Pinoy expatriate that would just be a temporary anxiety that is soon comforted by the very reason of taking that very first flight away from home: for a better life.

I am now part of the ever-growing diaspora of Filipinos; seeking better opportunities in places where they are strangers. It has been a year already yet the events leading to where I am now are as vivid as today. This has not been part of my plan actually. The plan was to establish myself in a local company and make myself all the way to the top. I guess this is what most fresh graduates would dream of achieving. Afterall, it's one hell of a package: money, entitlement and power. Wow! I could have sold my soul to the devil. But then I realized that the place on top seems like an exclusive club where members got into either by hard work or by other means. Moreso, one can't really be sure that having a view from the top is having a view of a better life. This realization might have been brought by an opportunity I didn't expect to come; an opportunity I Remaining FABL-ers @ Heaven N' Eggs, Makati City (8/31/2007)discovered when I entered Globe Telecom (GT). It is an opportunity that I find difficult to explain to most of the people who ask about it, but then I found easy to be identified with the closest of my GT friends. We call ourselves FABL-ers: driven by one goal and the acronym says it all. We don't just exchange CVs and technical reference materials; we exchange personal stories. We don't just reveal new job positions abroad; we reveal secrets with one another. We laughed a lot in and out of the office, but most of the time inside when we're burned out with work. We had our share of dramatic moments, then back to laughing again (yes, that can be normal). Dinner outs. Movie trips. Out-of-towns. Sleep-overs. Road trips. Yosi breaks. 5th floor. Coffee sessions. Untill it was hard to say goodbye. One by one we left our desks. One farewell video presentation (a bit of a tradition) and a dinner, and we were one less of a count. It may be emotional but we always say to ourselves: "Magkikita-kita rin sa finals.". Soon enough, some of us met in Brasil but I bet it's still not the "finals" we're referring to. It is hard to leave the place one has been for the longest of time. Not only that I left my family and friends, I also left behind habits and comforts. For some, a better life resides on other lands. Personally I can still find my better life back home. Some FABL-ers found theirs. I will, soon. But hey, being with these guys is a glimpse of that afterall.

It kept me thinking: how would a better life looks and feels like? Would it be a significant amount in the bank account? Would it be land titles and cars? Would it be a family of my own? Yes, how would I gauge "better"? I guess I will soon find out. It's just that now I believe that the path I am taking would eventually lead me there. Maybe because I'm now able to do some things that I might not have done when I chose to stay. You see the word "better" begets an onward action; it makes me seek what lies ahead. In this temporal world we're living in, it can be a rollercoaster ride, and that's life where tomorrows will most of the time... better.

So why not just go for the best life?

Why would I? I'm still enjoying my stay; still preparing the way for the inevitable.
GMT 0 Accra, Ghana