Close up picture of a woman holding small rocks.

The work life of the rock ladies

I feel so … different from my old work life. That’s right – my work life. I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, during our early retirement world travel pandemic pause in the Philippines.

Every week is basically the same for me. It’s a nice routine, really. Sun, rain, wind. Beach, write, eat. Chat, help, observe. Swim, bike, sleep. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

So why on Earth am I thinking about my old work life? Because I can’t believe how much free time I have now, and how I never had free time back then.

I recently explored an area in a nearby municipality called Nabas. I spent a few hours in the barangay (village) Gibon, mostly on the beach. It’s a rock beach with small stones.

And that brings me to where I found the rock ladies.

Work life of the rock ladies

Large boulders smoothed by countless tides are stacked at the end of the beach. I walked over rocks and around the bend. That’s where I came upon the rock ladies.

Four women picked through small rocks around the boulders. They were looking for a specific type of rock in a specific size. One woman spoke English and I got their story.

They collect the rocks in empty rice sacks. They haul the sacks home, then put the rocks in tin cans (think soup can), and they sell the cans.

What do you think they earn?

The rock ladies make ten pesos per can, or about 20 cents.

I asked who buys the cans of rocks. She said landscapers hired to work on properties owned by wealthy people, sometimes as patio decorations around swimming pools, or in large plant pots.

I asked if she would sell some rocks to me. She said yes and scooped a pile from her rice sack into a plastic bag I carry to stick my phone in, in case it rains.

As I walked away from the rock ladies, I thought of people I know who work in careers that cause them incredible amounts of unhealthy stress. I myself didn’t handle job stress too well early in my career.

Now I’m in a strange spot where I can observe both work worlds: that of corporate greed, and that of desperate need in people around the world – people like the rock ladies.

These women aren’t alone

There was a time when I’d come across women like the rock ladies and be flabbergasted at what I saw, since it was so wildly different from my former work reality. Now, I don’t even think twice about it.

But I decided to write a blog post about them because I know most of my American friends who don’t travel to developing countries don’t see people like the rock ladies.

These women are yet another example of people in this part of the Philippines with income issues.

It’s also the indigenous Ati tribe and most of the Filipinos who live around where we rent an apartment in Malay, Aklan Province.

While the fisherfolk cast their nets, and while the Ati sell eggs, garden, and fish themselves, more planes land at the airport in Malay every day. The tourists are coming back, slowly.

Word is there is a working plan to bring international tourists back to Boracay Island. Tourism is the main economic engine of this region.

I believe it will take another year – or more – if ever – to get to the pre-pandemic tourism numbers that lifted local people out of poverty.

Eventually, we will move on from this world of desperate need. And wherever we might go, I’ll likely buy a few more things I don’t need.

Thanks for reading, “The work life of the rock ladies.”

You might also like our special page devoted to our projects with the Ati indigenous tribe.

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