Tuesday, September 16, 2008

First, love or money?


In the smoky candlelight of a friend's one-table cantina, I share conversation with her and a local man. He asks me the inevitable question: why I am not married. (Because all women are considered old maids if they are not married by the age of 30.) I’m used to this question and have an automatic answer; I need to get a job and my career in-line first. This is something Filipinos understand, but those who have time on their hands or a great deal of curiosity, as this gentleman does, persist.

I tell him that it’s not uncommon for married people to fight about money in the U.S. and somtimes it can even end the marriage. He agrees. I would rather be financially stable before I get married. He shakes his head sadly at this and says that “Filipinos live by their hearts.”

Suddenly, I realize what an idiot I was for thinking that working first, career before everything and preaching that to my students was the right approach. I didn’t come from a poor family that struggled. I worked in high school and college but always had my parents to rely on if I needed help. I knew that I had a good chance to succeed if I worked hard. Life isn't as fair in the Philippines.

When I thought about my friends in St. Louis who were off and on welfare constantly and considered working poor. I knew their family life was what kept them from a breakdown. Yet, I knew that they would not agree with this Filipino man. While they had strong family values, they would prefer to wait to have a job before starting a family. Yet, my St. Louis friends know that financial stability as an American right and can be something achievable with time, pending extenuating circumstances beyond their control, and these seem to happen often. Whereas for working class Filipinos, unless they are graced with a scholarship or business sponsorship find themselves constantly battling to keep on top of their debts.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

revisiting siniloan's charms in spring


I’m focused now on remembering every moment, every scent, every laugh/joke and suddenly finding life in Siniloan novel again.

The smell of oil and garlic or the tangy/salty smell of pork asado wafting from neighboring dirty kitchen’s every noon, through the almost identical pastel colored eye-lit curtains.
Little children chasing me down the block. Little kids no longer too ashamed to race me down the street on my daily jogs. Proud that girls are among those unafraid to get sweaty despite the adults jokes.

Falling asleep like a wet leaf onto the back of the jeepney driver’s head rest in a thick, soggy sleep. I never wake up until the very moment the jeepney turns the last bend before reaching the long stretch of high way adjacent rice fields outside my town. Maybe it catches any breeze undeterred by buildings and mountains because the sudden breeze and the sweet scent of the rice fields always wakes me up.


I really felt an intimate connection with farm animals today. The spring season has begun in Siniloan. I saw a baby calf standing on the side of the lush green rice fields today. And I felt so blessed to be alive and to meet this precious creature. The calf was white with brown spots and a cold wet black snout and enormous sad eyes with long lashes.

There was so much innocence and trust in her as she lifted her snout to sniff my fingers tips, only inches away from her nose. Her nostrils grew rounder and then sucked in air again. Her heart must have been racing a little. Mine surely was. I held my breath waiting for her next move. Eventually, she bowed her head down and I scratched and smoothed the white stripe between her eyes, gently.

I was in awe that I creature twice my weight at least could be so docile. The other day, I took the path to Halayhayin on the far side of the highway where most of the houses are made of wood or banana leaves and or thatched weaved leaved in nebah hut style. There were several baby cows and bulls graizing on the side of road. Two caves were nursing and their coats were matted and wet, their bodies thin and concave and their legs still shaky. They must have been new borns. So sweet.


Saturday, August 11, 2007


Sumaging Caves, Sagada

I was a child: grasping, touching, reaching, climbing through every black opening ahead, any unusual surface I saw and wanted to explore. No space was prohibited, no path too narrow, steep or ledge too high, none unconquerable.

There were caves so slick with cream colored calcium bicarbonate. My mind was tricked into seeing human inner space, and I was gliding along a tunnel of twisted tendons and stippled fat. It felt so natural to be in the caves, crawling and crab walking through low tunnels. The cool temperature, the gentle dripping water and the darkness lulled me into awe, into solace. I could have stayed there all day and just soaked my feet in the glowing green pools, lit by holes beneath the surface.

I imagined my ancestors’ lives to be like this: living on the rock face, swathed in damp clothing from walking/crawling through the cave to the family camp site. I saw the nightmares a lifetime in caves might have plagued me with as I waded through shadowy passageways dripping with staligmites’ sharp, silvery points. There jagged teeth often creating a natural fence to the next tunnel.

Despite the slippery surfaces, the sharp cliff faces and the fast moving water traversed my first spelunking tour undeterred until we came to a narrow ledge with a sharp drop. The three guides, created a two hand holds farther down the ledge. The taller people went first by stepping quickly along the ledge and reaching out and holding the rock ahead of them. I saw how high these rock holds were and knew there was no way I could reach them. I could try to swing across and just hope I could hold on long enough to catch the ledge and get my balance, but I chocked. I could’ve took a deep breath and just trusted myself but I made the mistake of looking down at the rushing water swirling into the funnel-like bottom of the cave. The problem was, I had no choice, I couldn’t stay here alone. So, I moved forward with a little help.

A tall guide came back for me and stood in the icy water for me and let me use his knee for extra support in case I slipped as I walked along the ledge. I was grateful but embarrassed at how secure and close the cave floor actually was or at least the guide made it easy to stabilize his balance in. I heard earlier someone slipped and fell on this very rock face so I didn’t feel bad for being careful. I saw it as being a smart spelunker.


With Less than a year Left......

With less than a year left, I was at first both relieved and proud of myself. Then, I realize how comfortable I've become with my life in Siniloan and how close I've become with my neighbors. And I felt a little uneasy.

My States-side life on Friday nights went like so: walk to the gym from work for a 45 minute work out; call my friends on the way home to make sure our plans for the evening were set; run home eat, shower and change; and jet out the door for the bars only ten minutes from my front door for an evening that might not end until, well, it ends.

Now, I leave work when my co-workers go home or I get hungry and decide to cut our lingering by the covered basketball court or tricycles despite the children squeezing by us chika- chika short. I walk home, waving until my arm gets tired at students passing by on trikes and then nod and smile a lot and occasionally stopping to talk to groups of old men and women who congregate beneath awnings or tree-shaded front steps on plastic-molded chairs. I go for a run through the neighborhoods and out onto the highway, past the grain mill, past the rice fields, past the fouls and calfs still healthy and unscarred, graizing next to their mothers on the roadside. I wander back to my house to take a bucket shower, eat dinner and then wander over to my neighbors house to play Tongits (similiar to Gin Rummy), watch TV Dramas, run around the sala (living room) with the 5 (Dedette) and 7 year old (Ehlay) or just chika chika.

Sometimes, I wander over to my friend and co-workers house two blocks away. She is not always home but when she is, I always stay until we're both too tired to stay awake. She laughs easier and is always in a good mood. Her house seems the social nexus for students and young adults. There is a constant flow of children and neighbors visiting. They ask her for advice, she either gives it to them or finds a way to make them laugh off their worries. She is my favorite person and one of many people it will be hard for me to leave.

I really enjoy all the chats I have with my neighbors. We share books, our dreams, thoughts on religion, men, different cultures. Now, they even confide in me about their love lives. And I'm finding myself thinking about them and my other close friends at work long after I am by myself. I worry about them and feel attached as I do to my friends from home.

But I'll see my friends in the states again and I know that even if I worry about them they will probably be okay. I don't feel the same about my friends here in the Philippines. I will feel in a sense that if I leave I am abandoning them.

Maybe that sounds foolish. They are intelligent and competent people who will get by. that's part of the reason that I am friends with them. They didn't have access to the resources and support that I've been fortunate enough to have and yet they are successful, happy and confident people.

But people help each other here. If someone succeeds, it's expected that they will use their success anf financial stability to help their family. And my neighbors, my co-workers, my hosts families have become family to me. So, how can I continue to help them all in some way when I leave Siniloan in a year?

Where's the Art?!


I went to the Museum of the Filipino People. It was interesting but mostly swords and pottery retrieved from sunken ships near Cebu and Manila Bay. As a girl who grew up 30 minutes from NYC where art was always at my finger tips, I found my visit completely depressing. I wanted so much more for my students in Siniloan.

I went to the appropriate offices to get more information and was pointed to galleries where paintings and sculptures were for sale in malls in Makati and Quezon City. So, finding art in Manila has become one of my many personal missions while in the Philippines. I scour the newspapers weekly for information about Filipino artists. (Usually, they are traveling to Thailand and Singapore to exhibit their work in famous museums.)

Some of the volunteers think I’m nuts for complaining that there isn’t much public art available cheaply to the public that are bigger more pressing issues such as tackling economic and environmental issues. I agree but what buoys people when things are difficult? Who helps them remember to see beauty even when life seems void of it? Artists, musicians, dancers…. There aren’t any hard cover books with glossy 4-color photographs of paintings or sculptures in the library. (The library was a classroom until last month.) And there aren’t any shiny instruments tucked in cupboards of the music room. (Instruments are owned individually by students so their voices are the only instruments heard on the school grounds, and so many of my students are somehow pitch-perfect despite their lack of training.)

Okay, one more thing and I’ll get off my soap box. When I go to bookstores to the Filipino Literature section, there are plenty of wonderful books. But the anthologies are all the same literature of varying length of course by the same publisher. My students deserve to see how many accomplished modern Asian writers there are NOW and read work they can relate to not just folktales and essays written by people a century ago….(Not that I don’t appreciate the wonderful folktales and older written works, I’ve read them in English and greatly appreciate them.)

Anyway, my mom is collecting books and sending them to me in a bulk mail shipment, so if you feel so compelled, by all means send a handful of used books her way or with a Baltimore/DC contact (TBD) to collect books in Baltimore/DC.

YouTube Link from a Teacher Training


I didn’t go to the teacher training in Cebu for Tudlo/Mindanao teachers, but this is hysterical you’ve got to see this.


Pumasok sa eskewelehan (School is opened)


Summer was a flurry of activity. The main events include two major workshops and one very sad memorial commemorating the passing of a dedicated fellow volunteer, a woman I truly admired. And now another school year lies before me like sweat trickling down my back on a humid, sunny morning, slowly and inevitably but with hope. Chalk caking the underside of my fingers, manila sheets of lecture notes, refusing to lie flat, flapping in the breeze of the fan and outdoors. The inevitable nausea and half hour snooze/collapse on my desk that follows my two hour classes due to only one working fan in a very hot tin-roofed classroom.

Summer was a flurry of activity. The main events include two major workshops and one very sad memorial commemorating the passing of a dedicated fellow volunteer, a woman I truly admired. And now another school year lies before me like sweat trickling down my back on a humid, sunny morning, slowly and inevitably but with hope. Chalk caking the underside of my fingers, manila sheets of lecture notes, refusing to lie flat, flapping in the breeze of the fan and outdoors. The inevitable nausea and half hour snooze/collapse on my desk that follows my two hour classes due to only one working fan in a very hot tin-roofed classroom.

Vigan City, Illocos Norde


My favorite spot in Vigan was the pottery factory. I loved the sweet smell of wet clay, soil and grass on that rainy day. The room was low-ceilinged and windowless. A blonde-tailed pony grazed behind the house beside a tall mound of red and brown broken bowls and handles. I sat beside the man whose hands moved up the walls of the clay pot until they were tall and running vertical with narrow rivets.

I miss that feeling of acting intuitively without saying a word and see your ideas transform into art. And even when it is finished, it feels like something that can't possibly have come out of you. Is that detachment, release or grace? I'm not sure.

Being there made me realize I need to start painting and sketching again. I keep wanting to try my hand at mixed media art. Now is the time to do it....I walk by the hardware store all the time with ideas. Feeling the tactile urge to fiddle with wire, paper, plastic and paint. It's time to act. My friend, Valerie is shaking her head right now at me, I'm sure of it.



I was away from site for a while and it feels good to be back in Siniloan, where life that still means peace, friendship and kindness. I saw my home town with fresh eyes.

Walking down the street where little kids bathe under pumps or water pipes, women swatting on low stools before wide silver bowls filled with laundry, their hands gloved in bubbles, their hands never still, always scrubbing, scrubbing the bacteria and sweat away.
Yet, their faces quietly alert to every passerby, never missing a chance to nod or smile at people with familiarity or curiosity.

The kids weaving around me on their bikes or running up to me to slap me five, screaming, “Moria, Moria! Kehmoosta Keh!” (They loved making fun of my nasally accent.) The kids hanging over the bridge with plastic, diamond-shaped kites with long white tails, the name of a local grocery store stretched out but still visible on one corner of the plastic tail.

I immediately received text messages from co-workers. “R u back na?” and “Don't run alone, ok?” They always worry about me. It's really sweet.

Siniloan is becoming comfortable to me. I enjoy spending time with my neighbors who are around my age. Their kids come over and run around my kitchen or sprawl on my floor and draw on loose leaf pages in blue and black ink. I just taught my neighbor's 6 year old how to play hangman. She is addict already. We usually only use 3 or 4 letter words, sometimes in English and sometimes Tagalog, but she usually figures out the word in time. Matallino siya talaga. (She's really smart.)

I'm reading a lot. Read “Notes from the Underground” finally. I'd been holding onto that tattered used book forever. Fascinating ideas. I read it twice, introduction and foreword by author and all. Uncannily true. That we thwart our own goodness and evil nature by will and inability to be completely committed to one lifestyle or the other. Doestoyevsky says that its the nature of man to be unable to commit to being completely bad or good due to too much self-consciousness and self-awareness. He acts as if self-awareness is bascially a pre-occupation with your own thoughts, selfishness. It can be. I can't figure out how he came to that theory exactly, when he found religion in jail or due to an interest in socialism.

Regardless, I totally agree that many people do exactly what he says. Their awareness of themselves ruins their chances at perfection. Or is their awareness an uncessary state of being and should they be more concerned with themselves in relation to others? Maybe what he's saying is that no matter how hard you try you can't reach perfection. Actually, I think that he wants us to not come to any conclusion but just observe this anti-hero without pity. What I wonder sometimes is this, do people think they can be better people by not being in contact with other human beings like monks and just sitting in silence all the time?

How do monks know they've succeeded if they've only mastered enlightenment within the monastery? How does a person know they are truly corrupt unless they've encountered the silence of a monastery? We don't live on individual islands for a reason and each person we meet is an opportunity for an exchange of ideas, thoughts, and a challenge. Maybe one that will break the very core of our constitution. And should. We can't be whole until we are broken. Removed of any precipis that is plastic only and does not represent or with stand challege and isn't true to what we truly believe.

Do I feel challenged here? Absolutely. But there will come a time when I will feel ready to leave. It's hard for me believe one more year will be enough. I feel like I have so much more to learn from my Filipino friends and work associates, yet.

A life unfinished but far from forgettable

Julia Campbell: out-spoken, a leader, a mentor and with so many more titles undoubtedly to add after her name.

After succeeding as a prize-winning journalist, a career in the international non-profit world was next on Julia's list. I didn't know her as well as others, but I regret that world has lost the influence of someone with such strength, courage, generosity and lightening speed wit.

When I think about whether I could possibly carry on anything I'd learned from her in any comparable way, I feel daunted. But optimism seemed a constant in Julia's tone of voice, so I'll try to find the semantics if not a tone on par...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

English Lessons Taught in Tagalog


Yes, I had avoided the challenge of speaking Tagalog outside the office and in the classroom by merit of being the English teacher and speaking English only in the classroom is a requirement.

More recently, I have started working with one student who cannot speak English very well at all, never mind read or comprehend the language. So, I must speak to her in Tagalog to give the right directions to a game and to ask her comprehension questions after we finish reading a passage. My friend is going to pass her even though she should fail because she cannot afford to pay for summer school. I am going to try to convince her to meet with me at her house this summer so I can tutor her....Undoubtedly, I'll need to pick up the pace with my Tagalog studies if I really want to be able to communicate with her...It's been very challenging but a good challenge. We are both very motivated to help her understand English. My student and I have that much in common.

I'm having issues with my neighbors but I can't even confront them through a third party because it will undoubtedly just make them feel embarrassed and nothing will change anyway...It's so frustrating but ignoring the problem is sometimes the only solution here. Damn, Filipinos have amazing self-restraint to be that patient and forgiving with others!

I am still learning to show self-restraint and not to get annoyed at the trike drivers making lewd comments as they drive by (wearing headphones has started to make this a little easier) or stare at me blatantly and call out to me again and again and again as if it were a game and not at all annoying. I hate all the attention but know that I will miss it when I am back in the states...I understand that I'm seen as snobby if I don't wave back or at least smile so I am going to make an effort to get up at the ass crack of dawn (between 4 and 5 am) so I can run at the time most Filipinos run and I will start to immerse myself more in the culture...and become less offensive.

Marinduque Island



I love this island. It is the ideal volunteer site. And a nice break from my site.

A fellow volunteer, Kristine lives across from the beach in a house surrounded by a white picket fence. The neighborhood is a patchwork of family homes surrounded by fences and low bushes growing in the sand somehow. A neighbor's chickens and family dog freely roam about Kristine's yard in search of crumbs. Inevitably, a cluster of young children peek through the sliding door at us. The children climb all over a taller male volunteer like a tree and finding his surprise entertaining, persist. Another female volunteer and I teach them "ring around the rosie" and "shake it seniorita". My cheeks hurt from smiling so much by the end of the day.

The following day, a group of ladies came over bearing baskets of flower petals and sang/danced a traditional folk song native to Marinduque. The song is always sung to honor a person on their birthday or a guest to the island. After they finished the dance, they showered Kristine in white, pink and green petals and placed a wicker crown on her head.

At night all you can see is constellations like rice scattered for the dogs across the blacktop, the cool air, the sound of the crickets and occasionally the rank and rush of the water pump beside the house and the ravenous bite and sting of a millions mosquitos from the rice field in her back yard.

The next day, in honor of Christine's birthday, the neighbors came over carrying baskets of flower petals and a guitar. The ladies danced to a traditional folk song used to honor visitors or locals on their birthday. They placed the crown on her head and showered her with the petals at the end of the dance. There was a great deal of picture-taking with the guest of honor after that....

My trip was great until I made the unfortunate decision to take the smaller speed-boat back to the Luzon Island.

Imust have already been a little nervous because it was the boat company's maiden voyage after being closed for unknown reasons for a few months. As a passing squall tossed the small boat with way too many passengers side to side until I saw water covering the port holes, I started to regret my decision. Suddenly, I was grateful that I'd carried my Peace Corps-issued life jacket in my backpack. I was glad that I hadn't needed to use it, though.
Sayaw in the barrior, Mabitiac

After going to a wedding reception at a “resort” or private pool/outdoor lounge area with a restaurant, I piled into the Dance Instructor's car, the matriarch of the Dance Instructors, a tall extremely thin man with a slightly hunched back and a cigarette in his hand whenever he isn't on the dance floor but an impeccably graceful man who always seems to move effortlessly.

So, the bacla, several senior citizens, my female dance instructor friend and I traveled to a a barrio, or rural neighborhood in Mabitac. We passed several rice fields before entering a heavily wooded area without streetlights. We arrived at a fenced in concrete block being used as a basketball court. There were multi-colored lights, a DJ and people lining the fence waiting for the dancing to begun. It was meant to be for the youth but the DIs
took over the dance floor as there was no one dancing yet so far. WE handed them our discs and glided around the floor to disco (swing) and salsa music. We attracted a crowd, especially me. I sat back down on the two tiered bleachers and was instantly surrounded by 12 7-9 year old girls asking me a million questions a minute. They all wanted me to perform “Boom, Tarat, Tarat”, kind of like a Filipino version of the Macarena. I humored them in the beginning but that got old quickly. Eventually, I got tired of answering questions, heard a modern song come on and coaxed the girls out onto the court. I felt like a giant on the dance floor for the first time in my life, but I had a blast binding with the girls and they were very good at the popular dance moves in the Philippines, something that looks like a hop kick, swing your foot behind in front kick again for of move done at a rapid speed. The faster, the better.

Being there reminded me of high school and middle school dances and how hidden in the semi darkness under the glamorous glare of the pink, green, blue revolving blubs, the smell of stale sweat still radiating from the gym floor, a little girl can feel like a star for an evening, effervescent and free...Maybe that's why I like dancing even if I'm not great at it...I love the freedom to express myself without a care in the world for just a few hours.


Typhoon Remy


The worst tragedy has hit Bicol. Only a couple of months since the devastation of Milleniyo and a new typhoon strikes only to take the ash that all had thought Mt. Mayon had ceased to emmit, and turn it into a horrific mudslide that wiped 10 barungays off the map. (They were completely buried in mud.) Link to first hand account of disaster

Even after hearing all these statistics, it's easy to remain detached. Then, I started hearing stories about Bicol volunteers being up to their knees in water and having their windows broken, roofs torn off and being deprived of all prior securities received as a peace corps volunteer: clean water, electricity, food, shelter. They were suddenly in the same situation as everyone else and no way to get out of it. Eventually, the volunteers were moved to an evacuation center, but I'm sure the days of and shortly after the storm where some volunteers had not been heard from at all was enormously scary.

I visited the very town hit worst by the typhoon, Santo Dimingo just a week prior to the storm. I was stunned. It had been a cloudless weekend of swimming, hiking and playing Scrabble. I could see Mt. Mayon across the bay in its entirety from their wrap-around porch. It was hard to imagine the heavily wooded area with so many long winding, steep roads having been easy to pass once the mudslides started. Apparently, all the roads were blocked and could only be traveled by foot. And knowing most people in Santo Domingo lived by the sea and depended on it for their livelihood, I knew the storm/mudslide would cause more than damage to their living conditions but their very survival.

And after meeting several people, jeepney and trike drivers the week before when I arrived at 3 am in the pitch darkness in a jeepney, without speaking the local language and only have a vague notion of where I was going, people approached me and gathered in a group discussing how best to get me to where I needed to go. They went out of their way to help me...I wonder where those kind people are now and if they're safe.

Some volunteers lost their roofs and many were flooded out of their homes and evacuated to Naga City, the nearest main city. There was no power for a month and as of 1/20/07 there is still no phone lines operating in most cities in the areas worst hit by the storms. The volunteers spent many weeks volunteering at emergency sites playing at shelters with the children. They too were receiving emergency food rations at one point.

Thanksgiving Day in Bicol

I spent Thanksgiving Day actually sitting in 7-11 with a counter and stool waiting for a bus (for four hours). The day only commemorates the enslavement and massacre of Native Americans anyway.

Once I finally got a bus, I discovered too late that the passenger directly behind me had brought a live rooster in a tall basket and hooked it to the back of my chair. Th off-pitch cooing and the smell was so bad, I contemplated setting the rooster free while the woman was outside but decided the chances that the rooster would have a better life on the city streets of Manila or live a longer life were slim so I just sat there breathing deeply.

I had an unusual Thanksgiving. Traveled 10 hours to Santo Domingo, Lagaspi, Bicol for the weekend. The trip was long and ended with me being dropped at the side of the road in the dark next to two trikes on an unlit road. Only the spark of a lighter indicated that there were two men standing under the covered cement bus stop.

Of course, I am now in a Bicol-speaking region but fortunately most people speak a little Tagalog. One of the two men was able to get me into town. And I woke up the next morning breathing in the foul breath of a fellow volunteer snoring on a mattress close beside me, listening to the sound of the waves hitting the shore, and I knew that this trip was a good decision.

Mariah (pronounced like my name, I know 2 of us in the same volunteer batch; what are the odds!) house is across the bay from the foot of Mt. Mayon and view is fantastic. (See my photos on flicker.com). Its so big that I feel like the swim down the bay counldn’t be that far, at least 2 miles. Purple, blue and green_who knew a volcano contained such a motley of colors. It reminds me more of rock face near the ocean, marbleized, slick and green, pink, blue-black. Charissa, a geologist junkie but oceanographer by trade told me that the rocks are different colors due to how close they were to the earths core for how long and what minerals they contain. I think that I knew all of this but hadn’t thought about it in many many years. I was riveted, a geology convert…She told me about mollusks too but I can only absorb so much information without a notepad….I loved learning about the hows and whys though….If I’d had any mathematic skill I would have studied oceanography but alas, I can’t bare to even think about numbers unless it involves statistics, perspective measurements in drawings elements or picas. These all oddly appeal to me because they have to do with how to make images appear accurately on the page or bring into three dimensions the reality of many people and their lives. Fascinating to me probably a real snoozer of a conversation topic to others. Guess that’s why people always tell me I’m really bad at chit chat.

Daet, Bicol


Went to Daet, Bicol to teach a journalism workshop in copyediting. It was an adventure just trying to get there. I forgot where the bus line to Naga was and went half-crazy as Filipino men screamed at me to take their bus lines, trying to take my bags and following the down the street…that is the danger of pausing when you stand before a bus….People will tell you which bus you should take if you dare to ask…This was last time I would ever ask for help from bus drivers…I was sent to three terminals…none going to Naga. That is the peril of asking for directions here…People don’t want to disappoint you so they always give you directions, unfortunately, most of the time the directions are wrong….

The workshop went relatively well considering a few minor details, which weren’t disclosed to me until I got there, namely, that I was expected to provide the copywriting contest. I took an existing Washington Post article, created many errors in the text for the students to fix and copied it all within 1 hour and managed to be late only by 15 minutes. This is with the jeepney ride back and forth in which the driver stopped every few feet to drop off kids.

Daet is beautiful. Thick with woods and farm lands. The air smells of dirt and moist green life with an occasional whiff of dog poo. Perfect other than the last part.

It is all curving roads through thick green woods of new bamboo trees stretching there narrow slim bodies towards the sunlight between the stoic muscular bark of banana, coconut and blank? trees. Interspersed are many bahay kubos, houses made of rattan bamboo weave and grass roofs. There is also a tremendous amount of poverty as well. There were many houses along side the road patched with cardboard, posters or faded sheets to cover gaps in between walls. Kids squatting before a checker board using bottle caps or stones as the play pieces.

On the way back, I got off at the wrong San Pablo. Apparently, there is a town also called San Pablo in the Province of Quezon. I am standing on the side of a very busy road with two huge bags at 3 am having no idea where I was. A man approached me and I immediately started walking away from me quickly. He said that he was a teacher for the department of education. He remembered seeing me. He handed me 100 pesos and put me on a bus in the right direction. I don’t remember his name but I will never forget how kind he was to a total stranger. It reaffirmed a truth I strongly believe_there are good people everywhere, especially within the Philippines.

All Saints' Day


In the crease of the road leading to the next town between the Cruztel Station and a mechanic shop is the “cemetario”. Trikes are sitting on each others tails carrying 6 people with candles, bags of food and flowers. The street smells like lechon, roasted pork and hot dogs. It is only 2 pm but the sky is clear, the sun is hot and there are too many people in the small, narrow footpaths between mausoleums. People are getting off and on the trikes to greet their friends near the entrance of the cemetary, further slowing down the progression of traffic. The chief of police is making a useless effort to get the attention of trike drivers and keep them moving along to make room for more visitors.

The grave plots/mosaleums are teired and seem to cut into the side of the mountain like the rice terraces. On the ground floor of the cemetario graves take up every available spot. Next to eleborate moseleums with benches around the inside of the room with a gate and windows and even paintings or candeleras gracing the walls are coffins above ground in the pie piece corners between these structures that seem bigger than most of the houses in Siniloan. But moseleums are not only used for holding their dead, it is a place to meet and greet relatives and honor their departed family members properly. Surrounding the foot, head and every available inch around the coffin with flower arrangements and candles as small as tea candles and 3 feet high monstrosity meant to last until midnight that night when the celebration ends. Someone in the family, usually college students or young relatives watch the graves later in the evening, accompanied by friends.

Most graves have crock pots, plates and jugs of spring water lining the wall and several people sitting talking, laughing and eating. Others had set up a small concession stand in front of their grave site: selling gum, chips, juice boxes, candy. (Many people can barely afford to keep their dead in the ground. It is very expensive and once the body has decomposed, if you aren't paying the rental fees, the bones are removed from the coffin and tossed on the ground!) Organizations such as the Rotary Club and Rotaract also had stands and were selling sugo juice, lemonade and balloons on sticks to raise money for those who couldn't afford to keep their dead in the ground.

Children feeling restless no doubt after being at the grave sites since early morning, climb to onto the eves of the moseleums and call out to people below they know, including myself. One child was actually lying restlessly over the side of unattended coffin plot.

In the evening, I went to visit my friend, Lyss, who's mother is the mayor of Magdalena. I went to their very large open air plot which was surprisingly simple. I sat and ate pansit and a SIPPS juice box and met various relatives of hers. She's super social. It's a shame she isn't interested in running for office. She could undoubtedly win. She has the personality. She is the Magdalena elementary school librarian. I think that she likes being so close to home and being able to spend time with her son. (Her husband works overseas so she is the soul caretaker of her son. Of course, there are house servants in their enormous house. It must have five bedrooms which is unheard of in the Philippines at least in comparison to most of the two bedroom houses I've seen families squeeze into.)

It was stunning to see the graves lit by candles without any street lights to harbor their glow. They flickered and waved in the slight breeze, bringing a sense of solemnity to the evening that the day time activities lacked. (Maybe people were just quieter because they were tired after the long day. Only half the students showed up for school the next day.)

Tips on How to Fake it (Become pseudo-Filipino)


1. Arm yourself with the digits for karaoke songs at all times. Do not leave yourself at the mercy of friends to pick your song…. “Ocho, Ocho” and “The Spaghetti Song” are my personal favorites. They require a lot of repetition and absolutely none of the high octaves that are painfully included in most people’s personal favorites. Yea, it’s a cheap shot, I know.

Another easy song for the not-so-talented-or-otherwise-gifted-in-any-of-the-entertainment arts that Filipinos love and excel in is “Wild Thang” and “Betty Davis Eyes” which is more about emphatic speaking than singing. The ladies at my house roll every time I sing them, especially when I had a bad soar throat and thought I really did sound like Stevie Nicks.

My friends go wild because their tone-deaf American friend is singing in Tagalog and knows the words to the songs. Also, it’s not as highly embarrassing as getting stuck singing “Top of the World” by The Carpenters in front of the entire faculty, especially since I hadn’t heard that song since I was 5 years old.

2. Never ever leave home without your cologne, powder, toothbrush, fan, compact umbrella, and handkerchief, (especially since you make the ridiculous 5 minutes commute, a total of 12 blocks to the high school every day), otherwise, be prepared for co-workers (of the same sex, of course) to cluck their tongues at you as they shove recycled printer paper up the back of your shirt to absorb the sweat. These supplies come in handy on trips outside the office which always have the potential to become longer visits than you plan do to social courtesies that need to be followed. A one hour appointment can turn into lunch with the associate afterwards and even more chica-chica in her/his office after lunch….

3. When in doubt of how to answer someone’s question, because it is too personal etc., just laugh or say, “secreto”. That always seems to work and satisfy people that they haven’t offended you by asking the question and that the two of you are on good and close terms.

4. Become a very creative liar.

I’ve been a pitiful liar all my life except in writing, which may be why I always used to leave my parents notes the next morning as to why I missed my curfew rather than facing them and buckling within seconds. Most of the time people really want to know where you are going just that you are okay going there alone and don’t need any help finding a particular store or government building. Where are going? Where have you been? is the American equivalent of “How are you?” People only answer half the time and its said merely as a form of greeting half the time more than anything else….

Also, after being asked by 40 people within a mile radius these questions, you start to learn to respond to these questions only when you recognize the person or they keep shouting out the question even after you are almost a block away. Puffing out, “’Yan lang” is a sufficient answer to their pleasantries….Which means “just there”.

People also feel compelled to come with you where ever you go because you will rarely see a male or female riding a trike, jeepney or walking without a close friend at their elbow. American independence seems anti-social to them…and I guess it can be sometimes. Filipinos are extremely generous with themselves and their time….If they are every running late, it is not because they are not good at keeping track of time, it is usually because they saw someone on their walk to class/church/the town hall/etc. and didn’t want to be so rude as to interrupt them and run off just to get to a meeting on time. People will sit long after a meeting is over and chit chat, share marienda or a snack and then separate. It’s as if that is the real reason for the visit, to socialize and the meeting was just an excuse to see that other person….There are so many business associates I’ve meet here that are always remarking when they see me that they miss me and want to get together soon and catch up rather than coming out and saying they are interested in working on a future project together. It’s really an endearing quality about Filipino culture that I quote admire and wish to adopt, even though it has taken me a while to get used to after 10 years working in a completely contrary professional environment.

But it’s so much easier to tell someone you are going to the office to finish up paperwork rather than have your host cousin trail you to the supermarket to get tampons and then have to explain what they are used for….

5. Always check your coinage before handing it over to the trike driver. OB are considered an import (My package got held in customs because of these little buggars) it still does not qualify as local currency and will only reward you with a befuddled but politely silent and about to accept the halo-halo. Be prepared to smile widely and give one your nervous laughs.


My co-worker asked to borrow an exercise in a grammar book of mine but wanted clarification first. The exercise was to help students understand present and continuing present tense. It was a chart of a boys diet and then the diet he should have. She said she was confused.White rice was on the list of bad foods. This is a staple in the Filipino diet. I explained to her about the higher value of unprocessed brown rice. But its mal mahal (expensive) she said. She was also confused as to why white breads and cookies were bad for you. This threw me for a loop. I explained to her the low nutritional value in white bread and that cookies were in fact mostly sugar....Of course, Filipinos eat pastries with jam or meat filling, cookies or egg/root vegetable flavored cakes at least twice a day as their mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. She said, but they are made from flour and flour is good for you. I was totally baffled. This explains why more than 50% of Filipinos over the age of 60 have diabetes. Their idea of nutrition is outdated by about 50 years....

I've been pretty lucky so far. Even though I ate fish and seafood at my first host home, I managed to get away with not having to eat any meat in the my second host home and was relieved. I wanted to resume my vegetarian lifestyle. Apart from two instances where I drank juice at someone's house and am now sure it was well or tap water, I have been relatively bug free. Knock on wood. I take my malaria pills routinely and get as much sleep as I need. After graduate school, this is very sweet....Although sleeping in on the weekends is virtually impossible so I don't think I've ever slept past ten in my old host home. In my current home, without the sound barrier of being in an inner room,etc., I am up most of the time on the weekends by 8 am....what with all the neighborhood dogs barking, my neighbor's kids screaming/talking and people doing their laundry on my front step which is incidentally right next to the pump...That's the first sound I hear at 4 or 5 am....The crank craaaank rush sound of someone washing their face and teeth...probably neighbor, Lola ...as she is the cook in the house and the head of the home is usually the first one up to bathe, get dressed and start preparing breakfast for the family....I don't envy her...Everytime I see her she is either sweeping, cooking or washing clothes....I almost want to offer to help but I spend enough time as it is washing my own clothes...It takes an average of 3 hours, 2 to 3 times a week to get everything from workout clothes, work pants and blouses, underwear, socks and towels washed...Maybe one weekend morning/afternoon I'll help her....maybe when I'm feeling a little more secure with my Tagalog. (She speaks only a few words in English and they are barely decipherable through the few blackened teeth that she has.) Such a sweet woman though. Like most Filipinos, she is always greeting me and smiling....Westerners could learn a lot from Filipinos. They are always pleasant, never raise their voice accept to joke and tease and they are never confrontational, they try to either joke about a problem or ignore it...Constant peacemakers they are....And their patience so strong its almost unimaginable to Westerners how much they will tolerate....

MSG is used in everything from fast foods, cafeteria style foods, all baked goods, etc. I now understand why I was always sick every time I had training sessions at hub...It was all the MSG they put in the food. It was so strong when I was at PST2 that I spent every night but the last one going to bed by 7 or 8 pm, I was so ill. I realized it was the MSG in the eggs and avoided them on the last two days and recovered in time to return to site....Lucky me.


It is totally appropriate for male married men to tease women but not visa versa. It's not even acceptable to talk or walk alone if you are of dating/marrying age.

And definitely acceptable for people to make overtly sexual comments in a professional setting such as, “No. we don't wear any of those two pieces here so even if you want to show off what you've got. You'll have to save that for another time. Heh heh." And looking you up and down suggestively in the process.

Paegant Worship

Paegant worship (and other things I understand but still can't fully appreciate about local culture)

What people love more than a barungay piesta which many people take off time from work and stay up late and rise at 3 or 4 am sometimes to do all the cooking necessary in preparation for the event is paegants. Maybe its the lack of glamor and the accessibility of fame and wealth? Filipinos love three things food, entertainment and hospitality. They are the most important things ever. And everyone is always concerned as well that they always put their best foot forward. You never know which students go without food sometimes and live in utter poverty because every student comes into school freshly scrubbed in a clean ironed uniform.

One of my co-workers explained it well when I was pondering out loud over the Filipino's obsession with paegants. It has nothing to do with academics yet there is a paegant during every town piesta and high school science and math camp, school based, divisional and regional. Why? She said, “What else do the students have to look forward to?”

People hear don't have money, many are separated from their husband or wife in order that they can earn enough abroad that they might have a little nest egg, but most people know that life will always be a struggle so why not at least appreciate the ways things are, celebrate youth, beauty and talent. And Filipinos never miss an opportunity to do just that. The United Nations is another such event which with eyes rolling into the back of my head I stand after the first 3 hours wondering when the two segments of introductions by the 50 country representatives will end. There are, as usual, a few intermission acts involving a duet between a male and female student singing “A Whole New World” which was actually done in perfect pitch. Quite impressive and a hip hop dance number by the SNHS Dance Troop. They are always too adorable.

But I can't help but stand there thinking, the editor is up there doing a dance number and the school newspaper is in danger of not making the deadline to compete in the annual newspaper contest. In the states, this would never happen. The students would have been up until all hours at school even on Sunday and would have skipped the performance to do their work....Instead, the advisor is going ballistic trying to complete the editing and getting her husband to create the layout (he's a graphic designer). This is totally insane.
She's just supposed to be helping them not doing their work for them....

It's a shame because the students are becoming too relient on their teachers and it shows. The students always end up turning in their assignments late. And it is pretty common for me to hear a teacher complain that she had to repremand her class for not doing their assignment! I've heard of one or two students forgetting to do an assignment, but how is it possible that an entire class could more than once forget to do an assignment? That is just too bizarre! Maybe in two years some of my ideas will be accepted along with the multiple paegents as non-academic projects/events allowed by the school.

The Visitation of the Gods, a short story by Gilda Cordero-Fernando has been totally comforting to me in trying to understand bureaucracy in the Filipines as well as made me question how things work within certain domestic affairs departments within the U.S. government. Hopefully, my dear friends who work or have worked for government before you can enlighten me about all the juicy and horrific details because I’m feeling a little shell-shocked at times coming from a purely non-for-profit businesses. This is my first job working for the government so I have a feeling I’m still too wet behind the ears to get it at times.

Walang swerte (without luck)


Tears of frustration come too frequently lately. I am trying to move forward on a couple of projects but the process is slow and involves running back and forth to get permission for many things. This involves a lot of informal meetings and waiting. Waiting and more waiting.

There is nothing more amazing to me than watching opportunity after opportunity squashed because egos and bureaucracy carry tantamount importance above all other organizational goals. And that is all I will say about that.

And despite the fact that my projects are moving slowly as the months fly by, I've been able to accomplish a few things lately that I am proud of.

I decided that I should take advantage of my free time to learn new skills and Millenyo gave me ample time to experiment.

I've learned to make a few Filipino dishes, homemade peanut butter, hem curtains decently and am ambitious to sew a shirt or sun dress over the next few months.

City Life Starts to Lose its Charm

The pollution, traffic, noise, people constantly screaming hello to me is getting to me. As much as I like my home, I wish that I had been able to find something outside the center of the city. I try to run outside the city at least once a day to be surrounded by nothing but trees, rice fields, goats and cows. It always works. My headaches and tiredness dissipates and my mood lightens instantly. I feel free. I always used to city life, for a while.

I walked down along a concrete path built directly on top of the mud separating two rice fields....I walked and walked excited to find a more rural route home away from the pollution, screaming children who may or may not know more about me than my name and the swerving trikes. The curvy concrete path only led to the very center of the field where a house of weaved bamboo called a nebah hut sat under the low, wide branches of a tree. This was such a paradox to me. How families lived together until they married and sometimes afterward with their children and they were so private yet know everything about everyone else's business. It's almost a form of self-protection and protection to know the people around you so you know that your family is truly safe...That is what I've decided to believe regarding the gossipy nature of Filipino's. (Yet, it still bother me that people stare at me everywhere I go...I'm hoping that I will get over this soon.)

I know that with every failure will come a new opportunity. That is how I insist on thinking about things..every failed relationship, every failed opportunity...a teacher of mine once said that every mistake is a new opportunity...that is how I prefer to look at life....Look at what happened and resulted. Take what you can from the experience, learn from it and move on in a totally new direction.

40 Kilometers from Siniloan, Upland Region


I crammed into a trike along with four other people (my co-workers and her two kids and a mutual friend from the neighborhood) to visit a friend living in a two-story Nebah hut near kilometer 40.

The hills are so steep, we had to let the trike's engine rest a few times because it was working so hard to get us up the hills. My co-worker's 12 year old daughter and I walked up one hill that seemed impossible for the trike to climb with all 5 of us.

As soon as I saw Sylvia's house, I thought this is for me. This is the life! She lives in a two-story nebah hut (a house made of weaved bamboo with a thick roof of long grass). There is a vegetable garden, chicken coops behind the houses and a pig farm on the far side of the hill. There's also a rest house cross a flowered pathway where people can rest for mid-day naps. There is also a dirty kitchen, or outdoor kitchen inside.

It was so amazing to sit there in the misty rain, rocking back and forth on a swinging bench and look down at the deep ravine of ruffled banana and fringy coconut trees below. It was so “malamig” there. A relief from the heat of the lower land region of Siniloan...And so cool and quiet..There were no trikes whizzing by constantly, no people or music blaring...

I think that I'm getting old. I'm becoming so intolerant of noise lately. Maybe it's because quarters are so close here and there is no privacy so the noise and people are everywhere. I know that sounds bad. I really enjoy the people but wish I had a retreat..place I could go that was kind of away from everything...

I wish my house was more remote so I could not be easily disturbed. The truth is neighbors, old neighbors, students and old host family members have taken it upon themselves to just drop by on a random weekday night unannounced. This is pretty common and I expected it just not so frequently. I'll get used to it, right? I'll miss all the attention and interest and generosity when I return to the US. I hope that the Filipino sense of close knit families, generosity, consideration of others before themselves, constant positive attitude and smiling face rubs off on me. I like how positive and agreeable people tend to be here...I think that positive attitude, hopeful spirit and open generosity with all people is something the US could use a lot more of.

Walang Kurante (Powerless after Typhoon Millenyo)


No power (obviously, this entry is copied from my journal written by candlelight). Some are saying it could be a month before we get our power back. This doesn't really phase me. It's an excuse to stay in a read during the day and go to bed early. I'm kind of enjoying it..the quiet time...although I do miss being able to communicate with my friends and family via the internet.

I ran down the highway Friday morning and noticed that the one room shack along the highway was completely destroyed. The ground was smoking and the family, who I had met last summer when I first moved here..(I met them when I was sketching on the other side of the road). I'm assuming the house caught fire in the storm. Apparently, they stayed with the mother's brother the night before. The family was just sitting in a parked jeepney (the sky was overcast). The mother recognized me but averted my gaze as I ran by. I came back and asked “Ano'ng nangyari”, which means what happened. The house was destroyed in the storm. The mother who was so light-hearted and smiling widely looked so worried, her forehead creased, her head bowed over the baby in her arms. She was ashamed. I asked where she was staying that night. She said that they were on their way to barungay hall where they said they would receive help. I went back to find them but the hall was closed. I found them still sitting in the jeepney 8 hours later. I gave them a little money but I don't know how far it could really get them other than feed them for the next week and maybe pay for a single bed in a boarding house in town for a few nights. But that was just one family and our town was considered the least affected.

I saw photos at the Red Cross headquarters/later this month when I went in to get information for a Dengue campaign. An area outside Manila called Silang, Cavite which is so beautiful, all woods and farmland was greatly affected by the typhoons.In one photo a woods was stripped of many of the trees. They were ripped out of the ground completely and the wooded area containing 100 houses was completely bare and looked like a deep, fast moving river. It took them weeks to bring the water level down. Theya re still looking for bodies of those missing before the storm. Other regions affected by the typhoons were Manila City, Bicol, (10 hours south of Manila), Batangas, Mabitac, Cavite and 3 other cities nearby. Crazy. I'm trying to help start some small business projects for the people who are struggling to recover their financial losses. Red Cross and some local baragunays are going to help coordinate these small business trainings with me. I'm of course hoping to recruit some small business volunteers to help run the training.

I went to the plenke around 6 p.m., when the sun is starting to go down. The palenke is already dark inside. The market is usually busy. The streets filled with trikes weaving in and around pedestrian traffic and motorcycles (the main means of transportation for Filipinos) and the market packed with people standing around, patiently waiting in line to place their order at the vegetable and fruit stands. Tonight the place looks like an abandoned fairground, garbage littering the floor beneath abandoned and empty card tables beneath tarps. The few remaining tindehans (vendors) with scattered tea candles on their card tables barely look up at me, their heads in their hands, some sleeping. One vendor tells me business was been awful all last week and this week hasn't been much better.

I walk back down the dark streets only occasionally lit by a few trikes' headlights. I walk across the street cautiously because not all trike drivers and motorcyclists bother to use their headlights when driving in the dark. A kiosk selling roasted peanuts on the street looks like something from the 19th century with a metal kerosine lamp hooked onto the side of the cart dancing high in the windy night light a torch. We've heard there is still another typhoon coming through next Monday.

I pass Jolly Bee's and I'm disgusted. The two story structure has music blasting from speakers on the sidewalk. Their air conditioning and refrgerators are running while so many people have no power to even operate their running water in neighboring barungays. Incredible.

This power outage has made me much more aware of my energy and water consumption. I am thinking about trying to conserve more water. Washing my dishes in a basin and then dumping the dirty water on my plants. Using candles at night instead of electricity on the first floor. Only using my fan when I need it. Taking trikes only when its raining hard and walking more. I was walking a lot more in Limay. I got lazier the more buisy my life has become here.

Yes. There have been inconveniences. When I'm cooking and using candle light to cook by if I don't get home early enough to cook by daylight (before 5:30 pm) all the windows fog up and its very hot in the house (at least 10 degrees hotter on the first floor. The second floor is like a sauna all the time). It is also difficult to sleep in the heat. I find myself just lying in bed like I used to do Limay, reading (by flashlight this time) until I fall asleep from utter exhaustion.

I'm considering after Peace Corps living somewhere in a hut maybe here or somewhere in SE Asia, maybe in the states in a small cottage and living without electricity, just well water, growing my own fruits and veggies and living off my writing and short stories. That would truly be the perfect life for me.


I was walking home from the market again and there is a TV on the stage in the plaza, playing Sa Piling Mo, a night time soap opera. There are at least 3 to 40 people standing around watching the program. I'm assuming people got together and chipped in to get the generator. How funny is that! People are really serious about their soap operas here. I heard from friends in Bicol, another affected region, some people did the same thing in their town plaza.

Walang mabuting balita (No good news)


Do you know the expression about when you don’t have any good news? Well, that is part of the reason that I haven’t written in a while. The reality is that I did have many good things happening to me, I just couldn’t see them at that point. I won’t go into the reasons why. The reasons wouldn’t be printable on this site at least until after my service ends.

Fortunately, I had some friends who were very supportive and understood the challenges that ex-pats face. I feel so selfish though, sitting here in my own two floor house while some one I know sleeps beside her children on the only mattress in a two bedroom shack in someone else’s backyard. I had a choice to stay with my host family or not. I chose to move. I am happier now but I am aware of what I have given up. I regret that sacrifice. Maybe, I needed to learn to be more patient and flexible when living with others. I wish that I had been able to. But I do not have the conveniences that I had in the other house, so maybe living on my own will help me understand some of the inconveniences and hardships most Filipino's encounter daily.

I’ve have faced a great many challenges in the past two months regarding intercultural relations at work. I feel as if I failed some test. My relationship with the principal is not as good and I know it is because I have failed in some ways to act as expected of me. I know that this may be difficult to mend and may not be reversible. I have hope that it is because I know that the principal has a good heart and is a forgiving and kind person.

If not there are always other projects to pursue. Nothing has come up so far except trying to promote Dengue awareness. I made a connection at a going away party which may lead to a AIDS awareness campaign at the local health center. I would really enjoy working on another health awareness project. Health is so easy to maintain if one is educated but without the right information, the human body can fall into amazing disrepair. Education and spreading awareness and information is tantamount for me. Why wouldn’t I want to shove as much information into the minds of my students on and off campus if I can. It is so difficult for me to hold back. Be patient and wait until the right time and the right way to deliver the information so as not to violate cultural rules.

I think that I am failing to meld into cultural norms. I am still finding it difficult to distinguish how to address work proposals. I’ve tried informally talking to teachers. I’ve tried talking to my supervisor and principal. This sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. I still can’t figure out the process. Maybe I need to just present everything in writing first and then see if it will happen. I will try this approach, a more formal approach with my supervisor and see if it helps at all.

Ways my life and habits are changing:

I wake up beneath a cloud of gauzy mosquito netting that blocks neither the bright sunlight nor the roosters, dogs, people, squeaky crank, crank, and rushing sounds of the water pump in the alley beside my house. I always try to sleep a little later but the noise keeps me up just the same. It's better this way. I am more likely to get to work on time.

I walk down into the kitchen/living room, dark and cool, drop my wrinkled clothes onto the vinyl duvet and climb into the soap-scum ridden blue/white bathroom with a squat porcelain toilet and tiled floor. Take my giant measuring cup (probably used in some countries to scoop 8 cups of rice into a container) to wet my hair.

I am awake in 2.3 seconds staring at the woman in the mirror thinking that would have been a lot more refreshing if I'd gotten up earlier and gone running.

I squeegee the water on the tiled floor out of the tiny hole where the dirty water goes and then replace the rock that covers it. (I can’t leave the tiniest puddle inside the house as it attracts mosquitoes some of which might carry Dengue Fever, a lesser form of malaria, is prevalent in my region.)

I fill the steel sauce pot with water, turn on the gas, switch on the stove and heat the water for my 3-in-1 sugar free Nescafe (instant coffee, it’s really popular here). After ironing my clothes, brushing my hair and racing back and forth to the one electric fan to periodically cool off, I dash out the door, squinting against the sun already searingly hot at 7 am, looking for a tricycle to take me only 500 yards away to my school. Yes, I know it sounds sad that I sometimes take a trike such a short distance to get to school but appearance are unbelievably important here and I am constantly criticized, in a motherly way, by my co-workers that I should be more careful and not walk in the rain and hot sun. They think that I’ll get sick from letting the sweat dry on my back. The only thing that I have to fear really is bacteria, but I’ve found myself taking on these practices as well. I still run everyday. I need to and no need to fit in is going to stop me from pursuing staying fit and leading a balanced lifestyle. That should never change.

Another interesting change. Slow cooking. I don’t have a refrigerator and am attempting to live without one because they are ungodly expensive here…I actually prefer using all fresh ingredients and being forced to eat all the vegetables and fruits I buy before they spoil. It is helping me make healthier eating choices. I though that it would be hard for me to cook for myself without having too many leftovers but I’m managing just fine. I am enjoying the time to myself and living alone. Something that I’ve never done before and never really thought I wanted to do. I think that I had serious fears about living alone, that I would get too lonely. The young people that run the sari-sari, a couple named Jun and Marisa are super friendly and I’ve visited them briefly once in a while at their shop in the course of buying load or “text messages” or soy sauce or pan de sal (soft doughy rolls sold everywhere and eaten for breakfast only). I talked to them tonight about bringing cards with me next time so we could play Tongits (similar to gin rummy) and they were interested….It would nice to hang out with them more. They always correct my Tagalog which now I find more helpful than frustrating. They both also correct me in such low and kind voices that I don’t take it personally. Are all the people here saints? I’m starting to wonder…I know that I probably just jinxed myself. (God protect me from any illness or harm.)

A driveway with a fence covered window on one side and a gate on the other serves as their “tindahan” or store front. There is a pool table inside and a few folding chairs. Usually it is only Jun and his wife or one of his other sisters sitting in the room. Sometimes other people (garage??) the girl is always busy writing something down, doing embroidery or text messaging. Her husband sits and talks with me smiling widely. He is more confident with his English and loves to practice. He is on crutches right now but is still working in spite of his injury. Probably no insurance. I’ve asked him on more than one occasion how he hurt his ankle. He always laughs off the question.

Today was the six month anniversary of when 72 Americans left (Cleveland airport name) for Manila. I texted all my closest friends here and told them I was glad that I was on this journey with such amazing people..They are so dedicated, talented in so many ways, smart, driven, kind, fun, adventurous but in such different ways you can’t imagine. I’ve learned volumes about myself and other people and how they tick just by sitting in the dorm rooms during PST training or in a restaurant/videoke bar and listening to other people talk about themselves.

l Mainit-mainit

Here it is the end of September when even in Baltimore the humidity has started to relinquish a few cooler days to families in the park in long sleeved shirts playing friz bee. Not in Siniloan, Laguna. I had heard that the rainy season, though muggy and rainy every day is cooler, the sun feels just as strong. Here, rain doesn't always mean relief from the heat. Sometimes, it is so hot that the field and concrete turns into steam when the pouring rain hits the ground. So walking outside after the rain has stopped has the feel of a sauna, moist and warm. The only relief that comes from these sort of rainstorms is that the sun is hidden by the clouds so the heat isn't as strong.

Lounging for a cat nap on a hard wooden bench, seven women sit knees to the others elbows or nearly, trying to sleep off the past 4 hours of standing in a tin box of 80 children with two electric fans, sweat tracing rivets along your sides, back and stomach. Heat stifling the air and making it hard to breath. Or maybe, I’m just a weak American. I don’t bother to complain or say anything at all. Mainit-mainit (the hottest), says one teacher laughing. Always laughing even when uncomfortable, sad or angry. Always smiling through it all. Amazing. They really are amazing these friends and mentors of mine. They get up every day. Some of their husbands can find work some work as a teacher and another odd job because their husbands can’t find much work.. (Interesting. I wonder if the reason why there are more female teachers has anything to do with the fact that the principals are men and the women would not be a threat to their power…I know this sounds crazy or would in the states but not here. Here everything is behind by about 25 years. I read Gloria Steinem and feel like I must be tripping because I’m living in a flashback of the workforce before feminism. Ok. My boss isn’t a jerk but he holds his authority over everyone’s head)

One woman pats her brow and lips with a corner of a polka dotted handkerchief, another dabs powder on her face, a third places a sheet of recycled copy paper beneath the back of the formers’ shirt to absorb the sweat (this is common practice).

There is so much that I want to achieve while I’m here but I think that I’m trying to make up for being afraid the past ten years of doing what I should have been doing long ago serving the global community…Guess there’s no wrong time to start as long as one get there, right? Guilt. I’m not letting guilt be the driving force in my life anymore.

PST2 Training


It went well. A lot of useful information and a lot of great opportunities to talk to PCVs who have been here longer. Hearing their perspectives, bitching about my life here and hearing others similar problems all made me feel better about my life in Siniloan.

The highlight of my trip was on Sunday. I went to see a semi-dormant volcano in Tagaytay called Taal. We took these long cigarrette boats with wire like wings that help balance the weight in the light and long speed boats called barakas. We sped across the Manila Bay staring at the green hills surrounding us, uncertain which one was the volcano. It felt like I was in Hawaii. All I could see around me was a collection og small green islands of steep hills or dormant volcanoes. Pretty amazing. After a half hour hike at noon, not an ideal time to hike in the Philippines, especially when the trail seemed to be very steep and smooth making it harder to climb up the dusty trail. There were many horses on the trail so the other hazard besides thick coats of dust and losing your balance was stepping on enormous mounds of horse manure, or coming too close to a horse coming towards you.

Teachers, Mentors and Martyrs of sorts


Inspiring individuals (students, teachers, administrators), frustration (with language barriers in and out of the classroom and miscommunication that results), political agendas, youthful enthusiasm, energy, sincere interest in learning, pride (the kind that instills success in the classroom but prevents success in work relationships),and others are sometimes all the emotions I may encounter in one day at Siniloan National High School. Sound like a lot to deal with?

I thought so before two classrooms caught fire and then a few weeks later a student died from an undiagnosed case of Dengue Fever. The teachers of course take everything in their own hands and claim ownership for what happens in the school. When the school caught on fire, teachers left their dinner tables and ran to the school to help put out the fire and salvage what they could from the classrooms. Many books and school records were lost in the fire. When a student died of Dengue, the principal personally went to the students home to determine whether the responsibility lay with the school or the family.

All classroom advisors will be giving a lecture on dengue and distributing pamphlets on how the students can protect themselves from the virus. (Or that was the plan. It never happened due to logistics a.k.a., political issues.) What I find the most interesting is that the teachers are very enthusiastic to host lectures and to implement new teaching methods and experiential learning projects but the dept of education does not give the administration the flexibility to make many of their ideas possible. So a sense of helplessness hangs like a wet blanket over the office sometimes sarcasm seems hang cold and wet over the teachers shoulders, causing some to catch a sense of helplessness in the office and make it spread. It seems as if teaching is a much tougher profession here than in the states.

Granted teachers are drastically under-paid and often greatly over-qualified for the positions that they take but they do not have to pay out of pocket to repair the roofs of their classrooms or deal with as many financial hardship issues as we do here (where buying books and repairing the slipshod electrical wiring job in the library which if not repaired might cause a fire and finish off what books we do currently have in the library. These are the kinds of decisions to be made.Tough decisions. Being a prinicipal here is no doubt a job that causes more sleepless nights than restful ones.) And the issues that prevent students from coming to class have more to do with being able to afford a uniform and sacrificing money that could be used to feed the family or hours lost working...Families sacrifice a great deal just to send their children to a public school which is free...the small fees for regsitration, girl scouts, boy scouts, photo copies for class assignments, reading and everything else because there are never enough books, eat up what money the students might be able to salvage for lunch fare...There is a nutrition program that only operates for one marienda period a year...And this would help a starving child? This only occurs because the TLE team and students do a fundraiser every year.It's these sort of details that surprise me. The extent of the worries and concerns of students and the school's future and staff that hides behind my prinicipals easy, good-natured grin. The easy laughter I often hear in the office that my teachers create despite the worries and hardships of their students and their owns families that weigh on their mind.

"You can only laugh when things like this happen, " one co-worker once said to me. "All you can do is laugh and bare it."

This seems like a simple philosophy but to tolerate situations in Siniloan has a much different meaning than it would in the States. Personal relationships/rapport have to be more than luke warm. Maintaining friendly alliance s with all co-workers is a must even if they've stabbed you in the back countless times...So, dealing with a hostile co-worker can't be avoided by ignoring or avoiding them when there are so many social work functions is impossible. Social situations are part of life here and so forgiving or accepting the way someone is and smoothing out relationships is a necessity.

Seeing the Light in August*


The days are rolling by but I feel like the last month is going to be like walking through concrete while watching people speeding by on the sidewalk… I found a fantastic apartment but will miss spending time with my host siblings and host parents. They are such a great family. Maybe they will let me eat dinner with them a few times a week….

I’m a little nervous about living on my own, but I know I’ll be fine. It’ll just be an adjustment and I’ll be able to have people come visit me more often, which I’m really looking forward to. I keep imagining covering the little balcony off my room with lots of hanging plants, drinking my coffee and watching the sunrise every morning. I’m thinking about using a grill instead of oil because of the fiasco in the Middle East and how bloody the oil trade is that the role in the current war and why the U.S. is supporting Israel without limits seems questionable. I’m also looking forward to being able to run up and down the stairs in my underwear when I’m running late as I often am…or just to be able to dance around the house half-naked, singing loudly and be in my own space….ahhhhh. So looking forward to it. I may sing and dance horribly, but there is no other release more complete than the total freedom of (both physical and emotional) self-expression.

I had a break down today in front of Sally. I didn’t intend to tell her anything and than I suddenly decided to talk to her about the money issue because I didn’t feel like I could take it anymore. I can't explain exactly what happened except that my role as an American was seen in terms of dollars rather than hands on assistance.

This brain-bagyo made me wonder if I needed to watch more carefully the impression that I give to others. I don't have much money but obviously more than most people do. I also know that I need the outlet of getting away from site once a month and can't stay in every weekend. I need to at least go dancing with my Filipino friends and blow off some excess energy.

I had a very productive day. I slept in until 9, showered and went to a barungay captains’ meeting which all cpts. of Siniloan were present. A brgy cpt. Offered to arrange for books to be sent from Manila. She has a contact there. (This amazed me when I mentioned this to the teacher that I could get books these dual master degree, very intelligent people looked at me and said but there are books on the shelf and I said but why are they on the shelves if classes have started and all textbooks have been distributed. But then they asked what would happen if we got rid of the old unused text books and the shelves were bare. They didn’t like to waste the space. I said we would fill it with books that were coming that people would actually use…I guess they didn’t expect to get the books and I was amazed that they didn’t think that they could get them…The cultural divide of those that are used to getting everything they want and ask for and those who ask for everything and almost always are disappointed. Isn’t it funny how differently my co-workers and I think? Isn’t it sad the constant disappointment that they have to deal with?)

And I was feeling in much better spirits Monday moring. I ran a debriefing session with the journalism class and then had a language lesson with Donald. The day was going well. Then, I was told that I would only be able to distribute Dengue material to classroom advisors and leave it up to them to discuss it in the homerooms rather than starting a school-wide campaign.

So, I decided that I’ll just focus on the community and I’ll gather extra materials and bring it to the barungays and offer my assistance with the campaigns that they are supposedly running…I also will use this as a spring board to talk about doing an AIDS awareness campaign in Siniloan. Me, give up?! Ha!

*Light in August, William Faukner

Dengue Fever


Another moment so frightening I totally lost my appetite and found myself playing with my food staring blankly at my plate. A girl that had appeared in the faculty office last Friday night before the festivities of the Science Camp began, (I’m feeling nauseous just thinking about her), complained of feeling sick. She had been out sick most of the week with fevers. She died that weekend from undiagnosed Dengue Fever.

Now, her baby sister, brother and mother are in the hospital with Dengue Fever. Hopefully, they can be treated in time. I knew that the student had not gone to hospital until it was too late because the parents couldn’t afford it but I was amazed that none of the faculty had picked up on the clues that she might have the fever….

The Rotary Club pays to have the region sprayed every year and probably shows a film and educational material to the rotary club members which is available for public use but no ones probably ever is made aware of it. I will mention the availability of this information and film to the barungay council when I see them on Friday and get requests from the different barungay captains if they want to show the film in their barungay. I will show the film on my labtop and hopefully, borrow the school’s LCD player.

I was shocked to discovered even though there is Red Cross Training there is no school nurse or designated school nurse. They had to decide between hiring a teacher and a nurse. It's insane but the reality of life here.

So much to do and not enough time….I’m feeling overwhelmed….But if I just remember the famous phrase I’ll be okay…How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Sayawit (Competition in Song and Dance, Siniloan National High School)


Friday night felt so surreal. Such a nice school with such sweet polite kids and suddenly towards the end of a very positive evening of song and dance, the “Sayawit” competition, a group of students outside the gate started throwing rocks over the fence. There were also people inside the school property who had not been given permission to be there for the same reasons they were now causing trouble…they were not well-behaved in group social settings. The three guys among the judges were gone before I even noticed that they had stood up and on the far end of the basketball court talking to some kids on the other side of the fence. There was a solemn mood in the air. My co-workers and I looked around trying to gage how the negotiations with the “hoodlums” were going from 250 meters away. I felt helpless. Ordinarily, I would have walked over and seen if I could help out but I was not only new at this school but from another culture and race and my involvement probably would only hinder the discussion…But there is nothing I hate more than sitting around and waiting and feeling like a poor helpless female. Eventually, one female co-workers stood up when she saw that students were hanging out outside the basketball court half in the shadows, she yelled at them to get their buts onto the court. They were among the students who were not permitted to attend this event because they were mischievous but since they were already there she wanted to corral them in with the other students and keep track of their whereabouts.

I was impressed with how tough she could be. She definitely knows how to control the students yet the students overall love her because she makes it obvious that she loves spending time with them and loves teaching.

I don’t think that I’m cut out for teaching. I lose my patience within minutes if a class repeatedly talks through my lectures. I know this is because I talk to low and I’m far from an organized and captivating speaker so a lot of the frustration that I feel could be avoided if I was more prepared and on during my lectures. Maybe then, I’ll feel differently about teaching. I hope so because I like the idea of teaching college classes part time and freelance writing the rest of the time. I think that I would enjoy teaching English literature and creative writing classes. I just learn to develop a method that works for me that draws the students in…I guess that will take research, some studying on teaching methods and experience.

The students whispered to each other and sat on the basketball court floor looking worried or frustrated. They were probably concerned that the kids over the fence would cause them to have to go to bed early or even have to go home tonight.

Because the overnight for the science camp that weekend and the math camp in the fall are the only fun events students have an opportunity to participate in all year that only involve academics loosely. My co-worker sighed and explained this is the reason we can’t ever have evening events. Outsiders get through the fence by having someone on the outside get them in and cause mischief. But what if we have the help of barungay officers, I asked. We have barungay officers guarding the gate tonight.

I felt as discouraged as she did as I was hoping to eventually have a dance marathon to raise money for the school library despite my co-workers’ discouraging remarks. They told me it probably wouldn’t happen. As it is the prom is only 2 hours long and the lights are on the whole time so the kids don’t dance to close together during the slow dances ..and what teenager is confident to dance to fast songs when the lights are on?! The prinicipal reminds me of the character from Footloose, the minister…It’s actually really sad how fear can make people choose to oppress the people they are supposed to be serving. I’m amazed that the kids don’t resent him for this because the others schools are a lot more liberal.

Diplomacy and its many forms


Diplomacy and its many forms

With “ah ha” moments hitting me left and right, I found myself staring at the figurative floor I had fallen to and wondered where I could crawl to/accomplish from here. The library project: let’s just say; it’s not moving an inch and doesn’t feel as if it will ever get moving, and if you care about me at all you won’t even ask me about it. ‘Nuf said?

Salsa, the Pampanga and other sayaws

Covered basketball court, Santa Cruz, Laguna

I’m still on the dancing high and I haven’t been there in too damn long. It’s the kind of high where you lie and bed but the constant movement of the evening tricks your body into thinking that your hips are still rocking side to side and your arms, still circling your head and flying out to grab your partners’ outstretched hand. It makes me so giddy that I want to convince myself that I quit too early and I have one last wind to go. I would get up and dance my way to the bathroom to get it out of my system on last time but my feet are sore and my thighs hurt. It isn’t a good night though if you don’t hurt afterwards. I missed hanging out with people who just want to do nothing else but dance their asses off.

My co-workers took me ballroom dancing and I loved it. I learned a few new dances. I dance called the Pampanga (a town in the Philippines), which is kind of similar to the Chacha but requires more twisting. Her and her friends are DIs(dance instructors) so they had to keep getting up to dance with the people who were paying to dance with them for the night but I didn’t mind half the time just watching. There were so many people in formal dress twisting into a perfect tango or dancing a seductive salsa step and many of them were definitely over 55, 60. It was freeing to be there. I’ve felt so clogged up in my beautiful pink room, walking to and from school, it was nice to fly down the highway in a jeepney and just dance in an open-air court and be me without worrying about saying the wrong thing or doing something that would scandalize someone or ruin my reputation in the community

I stayed over at my co-workers’ house. It is a small home with a slanted tin roof patched with short ply wood boards but I felt more at home than I had in a long time. I was going to stay on their couch but she was worried that I’d get a mosquito bite so I slept with her family in their room, two steps up from the first floor on a king size mattress on the floor. I felt humbled and honored to lie on the cool white cotton mattress smelling of sea spray scented soap between her 16 year old and 5 year old, the breeze from the single electric fan crowding out all other sounds from the street. The only word that came to mind was this is what peace feels like. There was a feeling of complete safety and security among her family here. I don’t know why, I just felt it.


I sat with her and her kids the next morning over instant coffee and cold macaroni with a sweet red sauce with the two roosters crowing loudly back and force to each other across the yard and wished that I could stay there longer. She told me several times that said she wish that she had enough room for me. We have the same approach to life. We want to live simply but live life to be happy and not over-think things. I left her house promising myself that when I got a job I would try to help them out.

The next few weeks led to conflicting feelings about people, work and my life here.

The journalism conference was a great success overall, but also proved to me that there are many obstacles that the teachers must face day to day. (I am deliberately being vague because I can’t discuss it.) Maybe it was the fact that at only quarter to four the sky closed up, gathering its energy before spewing out the down pour that sent SGA students and teachers with palms raised about their heads as they raced to trikes, ending the seminar early, even though not even half the students had submitted to assignments they were supposed to complete for the weekend’s training. (And didn’t submit the assignment completely until the beginning of September!)

I think that I was feeling this way and that’s why it bothered me

I also was told about tings that other people were saying about me that really only hurt my feelings and made me more frustrated with my friendships here. I also learned a few things that left me feeling taken for granted, misjudged and generally frustrated. I am expected to never judge, comment, or react to Filipino culture while I am judged and told to my face why so many things that I do are weird and disagreeable to them.

I found myself sitting in my room that night feeling a little, like a patched-up Raggedy Anne doll. My feet and calve are covered in bug bites; I’m exhausted from a long weekend of helping with the journalism seminar; and feeling unhinged by all the comments people feel comfortable telling me about what others are saying about me behind my back; a few choice inappropriate and infuriating requests made of me (which I’m not at liberty to discuss); and for what, I have to ask myself. Yes, I was having my first, “what the hell I am putting up with this sh%&t for” moment.

(Now, as I edit these entries, I have a much tougher skin. I ignore the constant comments about an inch gained here or there, my every pimple or imperfection, and other appearance obsessions that plague the culture here. I am happy to share my differences with the Filipinos learn about their culture and maybe the third reason is to remember why I believe, live, who I am and learn to be more confident in that person when confronted with others that don’t understand my lifestyle choices, etc.)

Malingayang Kaarawan ka sa aking! (Happy birthday to me!)

Kanta at sayaw kami
(We sang and danced)

What a fantastic birthday! What could possibly top having 2000 high schoolers singing happy birthday to you in English, their second language? I was overwhelmed and honored, and sweating like crazy from dancing immediately before in two faculty salsa dance numbers.

Then, the faculty climbed onto the stage and stood behind me singing “Narda”, a song that is very popular here. It’s about a superhero whose in a Filipino cartoon. One of my co-workers was standing behind me moving my arms for me to get me to dance but mostly just making me feel like an idiot. So, I swallowed my pride, tried not to blush and smiled widely.

The Filipinos are all about entertaining each other…I guess that I need to get used to being in the limelight…pretty much everyone is here…Which explains why anything you do in public and some of the things you do in private, if someone shares that information about you, are fair game for They do it not to be the center of attention, as we would believe in the states, but the exact opposite for the benefit of others..to entertain the children. The longer I am here the more attached I become to the Filipino people. They are the perfect melding of three cultures, Spanish, American and Filipino.

After work I went back to the house with five bags of candy for the dozen neighborhood kids who had been my kasamas up and down the street for the past two weeks, making it possible for me to do more than make multiple rounds back and forth on Mendiola. (They wanted to run with me along the highway to the next town and I was afraid they would follow me even though I kept protesting that I couldn’t bring them with me.) They kept begging to play house with me in the Realeza’s house. I said they could hang out on the porch on my birthday and we would celebrate together…I reminded them as I passed the horde of 3-9 year olds, my new found friends, in stretched out, shorts and faded t-shirts with logos for PEPSI, NIKE and Gatorade: Is it in you? They agreed to be at my house in 15 minutes…I realized as I sat for a half an hour and then 45 minutes in vain that maybe children who aren’t in school, as these children, might have no concept of time accept based on the lack or presence of sunlight. I walked down the street with my host cousin hoping to find them outside. I was feeling like an idiot carrying this huge bag of candy down the street and made the mistake of giving out candy to kids I saw on the way. I started to feel like Santa Clause and as nice as it was at first later I realized that I created a class divide between me and the kids in the neighborhood from that moment forward as the rich American, the opposite of what I was going for…I thought that I was being generous but by publicly displaying wealth, I was making people uncomfortable…I now realize the difference between generosity and showing off in the Philippines. I am slightly saddened by this because the kids don’t rush out to greet me anymore. I have a feeling that I embarrassed their families and their parents don’t approve of me as part of the community anymore. A hard lesson to learn.

I don’t how I wouldn’t have… The kids literally swarmed around me when they saw the big bags of candy and kept greedily placing their hands out moving me around the street like the center of a big ameba. I was totally overwhelmed and look to my host pre-teen cousin who was sanguinely sitting on the back basket of a trike looking at something just over my shoulder. There were two kids who looked dirty and their clothes had multiple holes in them. I had never met them but reached a handful of candy out to them only to have it snatched by some other kid that had already stuffed their face. I kept telling the kids that the candy was for the two other kids and they’d had enough…I know they didn’t understand me and spoke barely five words of English. I handed a half a bag of candy to woman sitting in a trike observing this obsurd scene, pointed at the two shy children and asked her to give the candy to them. I have no idea if the children got the candy. I only know that I was completely disheartened by the children’s behavior. Up until this point my experience with children has been nothing but respectful and courteous and these children at the sight of abundant bags of candy turned into gluttons. I was disheartened but realized that the fault lie with me not them…what did I expect their reaction to be? They’d probably never been handed so much candy in their entire life…and knew it might be their last…why wouldn’t they want to grab all that they could? It was probably a banner day for the kids but a tough one for the parents. I should have used more forethought before acting on what I thought was generosity…Appearance is of up most importance…I should’ve just left the candy to the owner of the sari-sari and asked her to distribute the candy to the kids to avoid embarrassing the parents publicly like that.

We had my host mother’s famous spaghetti for dinner. The Filippino tradition is to make spaghetti on ones birthday. It’s like blowing out the candles and getting your wish (Another difference in how birthdays are celebrated in the Philippines: there is always a birthday cake at parties but since the cake is given to the birthday celebrant as a gift, the cake isn’t consumed until the next day along with the other gifts. It’s rude to open gifts in front of the giver because the point is the though not what they gave you. This is also to avoid the giver’s embarrassment in case the gift is very simple.) The spaghetti symbolizes wishes of friends and family that you will lead a long life.