Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mabuhay Kaibigan sa America

“Peace Corps Volunteer In-training”
March 24, 2006
12 am (Eastern Time)
Somewhere over Russia, 4, 000 feet up

So, I am awake at this ungodly hour (after 20 hours) because the guy sitting in the window seat won’t lower his damn window all the way. I got up and walked around the cabin of the plane and looked at the Russian landscape; so white and barren that it looked transparent if not for the occasional distinguishing shadowed peak and valleys.

(5:45 am Eastern Time)
Nagoya, Japan
Nagoya Airport

We are now leaving Nagoya Airport in Japan. This is the final stretch of our trip to Manila. It took at least a ½ hour to get through customs. Mount Fuji seems to hit five feet from the glass window of the airport.The veiny, gray and green, craggy rocks leading up to the snow capped peak hidden in clouds was exactly as I’d remembered seeing it in National Georgraphic magazines, stately, ageless and awesome.. Right before we landed in Nagoya, it was the first thing I saw, appearing seemingly out of the clouds. A wide, impressive mountain that just challenges you to climb.

On a side note, I was really impressed with the patience of the Japanese people. When we were standing in line people were unbelievably calm and patient despite the long line. They also were strangely silent. I am used to the bustling and noisy airports in the states. This airport was strangely silent and everyone stood in line and when someone moved up in the line the person behind them wasn’t breathing down their neck to move ahead. They took their time moving forward. Sense of time and patience unseen in the states is already striking my attention.

The pathway we took from Detroit to Manila is called in aviation terms “The great arch”. It is the fastest and shortest route from the mid-western United States to Manila. We traveled up through the great lakes, past Ontario and the northern territories of Canada, the Berring Straight, through northern Russian, southeast towards Nagoya with a short stop over and then southwest past Taiwan to Manila. (See map)

Time arrived: 3/25/06, 9ish “Filippino time”

Landed in Manila. The funniest part of arriving in the Manila airport: The sign that says, “Welcome to Bird Flu-Free Manila” was somehow not comforting.

US vs. everyone else??

Captialism and freedom_ that is what most of the JVCs have been discussing for the past fews days in pre-training as the main catalysts for the difference in American and Asian cultures. It is the reason many Asians move to the states and start over but it is the lack of understanding/presumptive/entitled nature of Americans that keep us from connecting to other cultures. This will undoubtedly be our biggest obstacle in integrating into the Filippino culture.

There are many differences that they forewarned us about that may take some adjustment: having to walk with/ be with people constantly, especially women, never travel alone and you can be an easy target for crime if you are, women must cover their shoulders, chest, legs to the knees, not speak too loudly or drink or swear or smoke, also of course, always letting someone know where you are going and watching your health (hygiene) very carefully.

The acting Deputy Director asked us to “totally give ourselves over to the experience” and immerse in the culture. Well, isn’t that why we are all here??


3/25/06
Island Cove, Manila
“Orientation”

On the way to Island Cove, nothing can prepare someone for the reality of deloppedated houses or “squatter shacks” between storefronts and houses held together by different colored pieces of wood, blankets, on the main road from Manila to Island Cove. All I can say is that you feel like you are in an info-merical for Save the Children. It isn’t an exaggeration pumped up to make rich Americans feel guilty, as some people think, people really are that poor here. It’s an everyday reality.

3/26/06

I went to a trip to the SM malls. What an experience! We climbed onto a mini bus that is shiny silver chrome army jeep with multiple benches bolted to the floor. The late day sun was shielded from our eyes by a magenta table runner with braided ends hanging above the drivers head against the windshield. Multiple pentagrams, virgin marys and muslim symbols of faux-ivory, onyx, gold and/jade with tasseled ends hung between the cab and bed of the jeep. A husband wife and sometimes a child sit in the cab of the jeep silently. Goo-Goo Dolls is blasting from the stereo in English. It was an “oh” moment. The wind sweeping through the jeep, aaround the ends of my long skirt to the tips of my hair, the dusty road/pollution coating my face with a thin film, lifted me up and made me shed the winter coat I’d been sleeping in and start to see life from the perspective of an American living in Asia. Pink and orange lights above curbside fruit stands, cellar phone stores and GROs (Guest Relations Officer or registered house of prostitution) or full-nudity theatres stood out in the fading light.

And who could forget the sign at the health clinic that said "summer sale, free circumcisions until June"! I think almost everyone took a picture of that sign.

It was amazingly close to what I’d been looking for and I was suddenly happier than I can ever remember being.

I told myself that I would totally give myself over to this experience. I would learn Tagalog, eat with only a spoon (in the right hand) and fork (in the left). I was starting to embrace a new part of myself_ the expatriot.

April 2, 2006
Balanga, Bataan
The Philippines

3 Days in Detroit of pre-training, 6 days of pre-training at the Bataan hub site and then, 2 ½ months of training before I can start my position as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The process seems endless and the PC method very cautious, but now I believe that I understand why that is. The PC doesn’t want to bring someone new into the community who promises to do great things and then never fulfills all their promises. During one of our many meetings since I arrived at Balanga, the acting country director mentioned that the number of Peace Corps volunteers leaving service has gone down significantly in recent years due to stricter policies. Therefore, we should be thrilled to be here and honored. This also implies that there has been a problem with volunteers not fulfilling their two-year commitment. I am starting to see why. “The Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love”? Tell me about it!

I am aware that I am about to enter far from an easy lifestyle. I’ve been eating rice with every meal. The Philippinas eat rice with hot sugar mixture of oatmeal type consistency, rice, fish, tomatoes, onions, veggies for lunch and something of a similar variety for dinner. There are a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables here and the hub manager mentioned that she has sent the vegetarians’ host families a cookbook with a few Filippina vegetarian recipes. I am looking forward to trying some of them. I hope that my permanent host family allows me to cook for them sometimes.

The lifestyle that I am about to accept is not an easy life. I am starting to get a taste of it this weekend. The only major inconvenience was not planned and that is the fact that we do not seem to have a consistent source of water in our bathroom. Of course, the current arrangement of housing all 9 single women in one room in a separate building wasn’t planned. The showers are only available to the first few to shower after that, the bucket and dipper shower method is the only one available. (I have had to do this but you get used to it. When you’re hot and sweaty, you stop caring how you shower. The act of cleaning yourself and smelling clean is enough.) Some have had to go without showers. We’ve all been too nice to complain. At least, I wouldn’t. I might embarrass the training manager. We have all just patiently waited to take a shower later in the day. I’m surprised that we haven’t killed each other yet.

I have avoided the other difference in Asian and American bathroom culture and that is_the “dipper”. The dipper is literally an 8 or 9 measuring cup used to scoop up water and force the toilet to flush down any bodily waste into the sewer system. Lovely, ain’t it? This is the same dipper I used to shower and wash my hair the past few days. I haven’t had to actually use the dipper method or as we’ve started referring to it in my room “ method”, but I’ve been assured that I will eventually have to. The one way to avoid it is by always carrying toilet paper or wipes in your bag…always.

4/2/06
We went to the beach outside a tiny fishing village this morning to see the sunrise. It was stunning. The pictures hopefully came out okay. The sun was a tangerine. A fruit flavored candy melting in the dawn’s smothering humidity. (See attached pictures.)


4/3/06

Living in the Philippines has definitely been an adventure so far. A jog across Balanga’s main street is impossible without attracting plenty of unwanted attention. Young men stand up and walk towards me as I approach, making a “pissst, pissst” sound. This is not to be rude or intrusive but just to strike up a conversation with me. Philippinas also make this sound when they are trying to get each other’s attention.

I stopped running when I reached the mall, not that I could’ve ran with the mile long knot of pedestrians and tricycles (motor bikes with a covered side cart for passengers) in my way. Tricycles, cars and street vendors park indiscriminantly on both the sidewalk and curb at once. Another observation is that I was one of the tallest people in the crowd. Yet, I am only 5”2, so this surprised me. I also felt out of place and under dressed as I was sweaty, wearing clingy sweat pants and a small t-shirt and sneakers. All the women had their dark black hair neatly pulled back in a ponytail or lying flat and long, cascading down their backs. When I popped into a coffee shop for a diet coke on the way home I also got a dirty look from the older female manager who must have been in her fifties. I could tell that she didn’t appreciate that I was walking into her store looking so unkempt. This is definitely going to affect my lifestyle. I am used to being able to pop into shops looking unkept without feeling looked down upon and I will need to temper this habit if I want to give off the right impression within my community.

4/8/06

A typical morning in my small farming community.

Coconut branches bow in the early light like a handsome child humbly pointing only its parted crown towards his admirer. The roosters mark the beginning of another work day for rice farmers at 4:45 am. Their shrill 4 beat songs echoing in crescendo from the uplands to the low land. The birds are busily chirping in the coconut trees, making chika chika with their neighbors. Yet, niba and concrete houses alike remain silent. It is too early for children to wake. The wives of farmers are the only ones awake, quietly making breakfast for their husbands who are checking the fields, planning the work they need to do for the day and will return at 6 for breakfast. (The farmers will work from 6-10 am and return to work at 2 when the sun isn’t as hot and work again until 6 pm.)

Around 7 or 7:30, mothers and their children will appear in doorways, drinking their coffee (it is common for children to drink coffee too). Mothers and teenagers will start their daily chores of sweeping the porch or path to the house with a hand held long bundle of straw, scrubbing clothes with a bundle of fish net over a narrow wooden board.. Children wander over to the polluted, garbage-ridden stream across from my bahay. A 12 year old nanny standing silently near by watching the children closely.

Soon stereos will compete with each other for the loudest, clearest version of some celine dion song. Mothers’ sing loudly and passionately out loud ant song about a love far away. Many of them have husbands working Saudia Arabia or somewhere else overseas and only returning for a month or a few weeks out of the year in order to make enough money to enter a better lifestyle.

Around 8 am, people will take off for work on trikes (a motorcycle with a side car that has a metal roof and plastic side windows) to the bus stop or downtown Limay. Many work in the market place or in municipal hall for the government. Many others travel to Balanga (a crowded and smoggy city with two small malls and many small shops and restaurants lining the road) or even Manila daily.

Mamayan (later)……

I feel that I’ve grown since my prior entries. I have been living with my host family for only three days but I feel as if three weeks have passed since I left Balanga. My family is wonderful. There is the mother, two daughters, one son and miscellaneous cousins who appear daily on the porch and in the living room looking to entertain the older kids. They are generous, kind, flexible, and interesting people. Ate (big sister) is the daughter of the Barungay Captain. He is always poking his head into the house daily to say hello. I feel slightly pressured to behave well and adhere to all my host mother's wishes. She never says no to me she just raises her eyebrows. This is the Filippino equivalent of no but it is used for nearly everything else. It’s as multi-purpose as sarcasm is in the states; it works for any occasion where you are not sure how to respond.

I live in a beautiful rural neighborhood. The upper and lower halves of the town are flanked by high grass and steep valleys of chestnut groves and peanut plants. Just outside the town, there are endless rice fields either drowning in water or dry and bare from harvest. Completely symmetrical squares outlined by high green grass. The only thing that morphs these fields are the blue and gray mountains that stretch across the horizon even though they are only 7 kilometers away.

Every morning at six am I crawl from under the humid, somewhat fluid haze of mosquito netting and brace myself for my cold footbath ritual. I’ve managed to handle it or at least get used to it mostly because I no longer wear my glasses when I go in there. That way I can’t see the occasional palm length cockroaches that skitter across the concrete walls washed in black mold. My host mother lightens my mood each morning by having a cup of coffee and breakfast waiting for me. It’s so nice to be taken care of. I have to admit. The only thing that is driving me nuts is that she needs to know where I am at all times. Also, she followed me home the past two nights when I didn’t get back from my run at the exact time I mentioned.

As soon as I walk past the piece of sheet metal roofing that serves the driveway gate, I spot the open fields across the half cement/half dirt road and I am relieved. I walk past a babbling brook where children in t-shirts and shorts are playing. I pass a sari-sari and several nibah huts, houses made of weaved bamboo and grass or weaves roofs. I see the ox and cart as a man of forty who has the skinny, bent body and leathery skin of a 70 year old, knots the ropes that link the ox to the cart. Small puppies, skinny with patchy fur lie in the sun listlessly. Proud brown and black roosters perch in the eves of entrances, crowing even though it’s long past dawn. The best part of my day is when I go for a run and pass a stretch of open land on St. Francis Elementary School’s property where the mountains morph this small rural neighborhood. I suddenly feel free and overwhelmed at the same time. I guess that this experience wouldn’t be worth it if I didn’t or couldn’t feel both.

I had such a great time with my host family my first night in Duale. All the kids sat on the porch all evening looking at my notes and helping me practice Tagalog. I would think that I’d nailed a phrase and then I’d hesitate and we’d all laugh at the awkwardness of the situation. It was definitely my first “high” of my experience in PC.

My first low occurred today when I was told me my outfit had not been appropriate for a meeting. The person didn't seem to think anything of my outfit until a few construction workers stared at me as we left a barungay hall. I was humilitated and very angry at first. I felt disempowered. I was resentful that I had to change how I dressed just because a few men noticed my outfit and were aroused by it. I felt as if my appearance is up to interpretation. After a long run, I realized that I needed to accept the conditions of my trip here and follow the rules that were going to make my time here easier and safe. It will be an adjustment to also have to ask people to accompany me places. That is going to take some time for me to change.

My second high happened tonight when my host mother and I bonded as she showed me how to do my laundry. This requires two wide rimmed bowls, a wooden board and a tight bundle of fishing net for scrubbing out stains. As I did my laundry she crouched in the doorway and chatted with me. She talked about her husbands desire to have the family move to Saudi Arabia or Canada. He is in S.A. now. The children need to finish their education, though. That is why she chose to stay here and sacrifice seeing her husband so he can make enough money to help them survive and she can stay here while the kids are in school.

So far, I have visited (4/07/06) the barungay captain, or neighborhood official elected by the town to regulate local affairs and field public concerns. This is the first public appearance a person should make if they want to gain the respect of the local community. The second is to visit the local mayor and district superintendent of schools or head official for ones area of work. The following day, we went to a public meeting at Barungay hall. It was basically a lecture given by a chemical rep of a insecticide company. This seemed useless as the completely unrelated to our area of work. Everyone in our group is a BETA (Basic Education Training Assistant) volunteer. We also visited (4/9/06) two other barungay captains in Tongolo and Reformista as we were close to these neighboring barungays when we went to visit the mayor and stopped in to say hello and introduce ourselves. The beach is beautiful at Reformista and it was the hottest day ever. The sun beat right through my big hot pink umbrella, making it into more of a solar panel radiating heat than deflecting it. I peered over the gray concrete walls and saw the clear green water of Manila Bay and felt my Pavlovian urge as a former swimmer to dive right in with my clothes on! There was trash in the water and Manila Bay has a bad reputation. I might just dip might feet in though if I get to go on Friday when I have the day off from class. It’s Good Friday.

4/09/06
Bataan Day
Balanga, Bataan

I went into Balanga (Ba-lan-ga) today with my cluster mate. It was an adventure and definitely the much needed break from my host family/life that I needed. We walked into town from the bus stop off the main road of Balanga and stopped at The Beanery so a cluster mate could drink his 500 liter Pepsi and smoke in the shade. I went in to be embraced by the air-conditioned coffee shop and get a iced latte with French vanilla syrup. It was a taste of the states I needed. There are no air-conditioned stores anywhere in Limay or Longolo. This is definitely going to take some getting used to.

I was hoping to see the Bataan Parade in memory of the ten US/Ally soldiers who were marched by Japanese invaders from Manila to Bataan without water or rest only to be shot. Araw Ng Kagitingan. Apparently, the parade was yesterday as that was the official Bataan Day. I would like to go up to Mount Samat while I am in the area. I am planning on meeting a few fellow volunteers in Balanga again next Sunday for an early dinner or lunch. I would like to go up earlier in the day and go to Mt. Samat, first.

It’s amazing how fast you can forget how to react to people living in poverty when your not jaded from seeing it every day. I know that my neighbors have nothing yet they never ask for money. In Balanga, it is more accepted and practiced. Is it because everyone takes care of each other or because it’s pathetic to beg in the countryside??

4/11/06

I interviewed a teacher today and I believe it went very well. Even though I did not need any experience interviewing someone due to my background in reporting, I did benefit from the experience of interviewing a teacher and knowing what type of questions I needed to ask a teacher related to my job as I am new to the education field. I definitely felt meeting with the elementary school principal this morning helped me define my questions more professionally as a cluster mate, a university and high school substitute teacher asked a lot of good questions about the number of students per class, payment for absenteeism on the part of the teachers and whether the teachers get compensation if a certain percentile of students pass the high school equivalency exam.

I also found out about some interesting alternative programs in my town. I am interested in getting involved in a program that will get students, ages 10-65 or higher, who need extra help with reading to pass to the next grade, get their GED or go on to high school. I am going to sit in on this program next Monday. It should be really interesting. Even if I do not need to sit in on this class, I may offer my services during my off hours to help out when I can and get some one-on-one experience with students. I want to start doing something. I’m sick of talking about teaching and serving and just training in the subject. I am doer and I need to fill fulfilled in some way, spiritually. The waiting has delayed the satisfaction of serving that I enjoy so much. Fortunately, I am enjoying the leisure of studying a new language and bonding with my host family.

I sat up last night on the porch and spoke with Ate (my host mother) about her hopes and dreams, what she would like to have for herself once her kids are in college. It must be hard for her to stay in the house all day and do nothing but cook, clean and keep an eye on her kids. She seems very bright. She went to college for one year before dropping out to get married. She was going to study accounting. I told her she can still work her way up in the baking industry without a degree. She seemed relieved about this. I understand where she is coming from as my friends have told me about the woes of being a stay-at-home mom and the boredom/lack of intellectual stimulation. I wouldn’t be able to cope. I’d go nuts! But watch now I’ve probably jinxed myself and I’ll have a ton of children and spend my whole adult life at home...nah!

Her husband wants to move the family to Canada. Tonight, my host sister confessed that she wanted to study nursing like her sister so she could move to Canada. They all think that they will find a better life there. I hope they do.

I am starting to feel lonely_ for my friends and women my own age to talk to. I somtimes talk to my host cousin. It is nice having a girl my own age around but we can’t really talk yet. Her English is minimal and so is my Tagalog. I hope that this will force me to work on my Tagalog. I am trying to study hard, but I know that unless I start trying to apply the language more, it won’t stick. I called a volunteer in a neighboring city today. She is living only 15 south of Balanga. (I live 35 minutes north of Balanga). I am hoping to meet up with her on Sunday.

If there are no buses I may need to change the date. It would be great to meet up with Americans, talk about training and just chill out. I get so tired of always being in my role as a trainee. I do feel a little bit like I’m in a fishbowl as I’ve often been told I will feel. At orientation, they reminded us to break out of that fishbowl and be with other people, spend time doing things that matter to you to be healthy and happy in your normal life. For me, this is apparently feeling good physically, having clear skin, getting enough sleep and feeling comfortable and safe among the people I live and work with.

Oh, the other thing that I found really interesting about the schools in Limay. There are
mostly national teachers working in the schools. The teachers are not from Limay
originally. Also, the teachers I spoke with aren’t and haven’t in the past sent their
children to local schools. They are in private schools. Sustainability is a problem therefore. Also, they have this great language lab donated by the mayor, but after only a year a third of the units do not work. I am wondering if there was only enough funding to purchase the equipment but the installation had to completed by volunteers or locals willing to donate their time, therefore the electrical connections are faulty. This could be a sign of inefficiency. Here I am trying to dissect what they’ve done wrong. This isn’ my job to judge them or their government, rather, but to focus on what they do have and what their strengths are that I can work with to improve upon the school and help them grow further. Parents/Teachers Associations are strong in Limay. Unfortunately, our community project doesn’t give us a enough time to plan a fundraising event involving both the school and parents so we will probably run a workshop when the teachers are back in school on remedial reading/ discipline methods/etc.

4/15/06

My training is flying by. I’m nearly a ¼ of the way through. I am learning a lot but feel pressured to learn and speak more naturally without looking at my notebook. I am going to practice on strangers today. Interview some people. I will carry around my notebook if I have to and make myself get these important phrases nailed into my head.

I also am feeling pressure within. That old negativity is creeping out. I need to practice writing down new mantras and believe that I can learn the language. I try to keep the story in my mind that I read once in National Georgaphic before I came here. It was a story about to a woman on Pakistan who fought the family for comp[ensation when she was raped by a gang in the neighborhood. Instead of leaving the country, she stayed in her community and built a school for women. My miniscule battles are nothing compared to that kind of courage.

4/24/06

As I walked back from a visit to an alternative school for non-students (students who have not finished their GED, the ages range from 6 and 60 and the books are so outdated that they use two modules. The same two modules are used for all ages. There are 40 students and only 2 teachers) I see my host mother sitting in the next-door neighbors front yard. The wide porch is filled with people who are filling several bingo cards with river pebbles, cashew shells and traditional wooden bingo discs. She tried to coerce me to play, but the dusty trail up to the resorts and the Aetas, an indigenous group was calling me.

I am listening to The Hives, “Munich” and I am able to understand from a first hand experience exactly what the singer’s referring to in the lines, “There a few things you should know by now…you’ll speak when your spoken to…” I feel so repressed. The guys go out and don’t think to invite me. I can’t go anywhere without a kasama. They can go anywhere they want without a second thought or just a slap on the wrist. I do feel like a second-class citizen.

They have gone to all different unmanned trails around the neighborhood and go out of town whenever they want and don’t worry about getting in trouble. The Philippines wreaks of double standards. Women must dress conservatively in the office but can wear revealing belly dancing outfits when representing the office at a fiesta!? Women are told that they must cover up or they deserve any unwanted attention. It’s outrageous and not something that I can’t and refuse to accept. Sure, I’ll follow the rules but I feel even more vigilant about being involved in gender issues and helping woman see themselves as first-class citizens. Evidence of this bias is clear to me even in the choices made. The most difficult island and the one with the most health hazards have a team of only men going. Yet, there were equally capable women who could’ve been sent to the island. I can’t help wonder whether women were overlooked for this position because they are women. This is a major concern for me. I am going to do something about this. I will be involved in the GLOW group. I will write a GAD (Gender and Development), which will rip open the scandals that I see being committed. I will also get involved in Luzvi’s gender and development in my region, Laguna. Repression of women in this day and age is unnecessary and must end.

(Text to come from site visit week)

5/11/06

I’m feeling better today yet still a little frustrated and concerned about how I will be able to practice Tagalog without a partner. Mine decided to work independently.

I am trying to appreciate what I can about this period of my training: hanging out with my host family on the porch in silence and just listening to them talk to each other in Tagalog; eating lunch in their small kitchen by the bright mid day sun coming through the side door…Little Prince/Ungoy (monkey)/ two year old neighbor/nephew of my host mother is standing outside the door playing with the outdoor hose and laundry basin while roosters peck around him distractedly looking for spare crumbs which may have fallen from the small plastic basket for garbage hanging over the fence.

I love sitting at the lunch table eating fresh buttered vegetables (string beans almost as thick as my little finger, okra, baby corn, carrots and potatoes), rice, mangos and melon juice (freshly shredded cantalope, condensed milk, cantalope juice and sugar_masarap!) I enjoy talking to a cluster mate about our host families, what we ate for breakfast and lunch, listening to his personal and humorous tirades, talking about our permanent site, permanent projects, everything, pretty much….I know that I’ll miss my little country town. It’s so quaint.

The roosters and random dogs fill every available living space in people’s yards and no one seems to mind when they wander into their yards. Everyone is accepting of sharing their personal space with the rest of the community in order to remain on good terms with each other. People are more tolerant of each other here….less judgemental.

In my new town, I feel as if there is so much pressure. It was weighing me down the whole time was there. I am determined to fit in and know that becoming fluent as quickly as possible will help tremendously. Wish me luck!!!


5/14/06

Friday with power was out all day and also part of Saturday, luckily, it was so windy, the weather indoors was tolerable. The power outage was scheduled on Friday and the lines were down on Saturday due to the typhoon passing through the Vassiyas region. There was a warning stage 1 in our province, Bataan. This was my first experience with a typhoon. The wind and rain was such a relief after the constant stifling heat making my concrete room feel like a coffin even though the mass of mosquito netting is billowing all around me, violently alive all night. Still, I lay there wide- awake somehow too aware of the cool air running over my body. I felt too exposed lying there in my black full-slip. Strangely, I had grown used to falling asleep in layers of sweat and baby powder, exhausted by the heat, sun and exertion of the day. I felt too awake. I lied there wishing I could lie outside on the bamboo couch outside again.

I felt so comfortable lying there earlier in the evening, the wind and rain whipping around me. The chaos of the storm somehow calmed me within, as it always does. I felt protected by the wind and rain somehow. I fell into the deepest sleep I’ve had since I’ve been here. I woke up totally revived.

The evening had gone so strangely on Friday. Sitting there in the darkness on the porch, oblivious to the wind and rain, quizzing each other on Tagalog adjectives by the light of our cell phone flashlights, the boys occasionally breaking to wrestle and get out their restless energy. I sit content to laugh at them. Their figures only a white outline of overlapping lines and curves like an unlit windy country road. (This eventually caused_ as would all fooling around on a marble titled porch_ one to cut his knuckles; just a scratch.)

Later on, I sat around in the living room with host family, my host sister and I attempting to make shadow puppets on the wall in the candlelight. My host mother laughed and shivered when I asked if she knew any ghost stories. Apparently, it’s not smart to tell ghost stories when the powers off at night….Superstitions, hidden in the light of day, come out at night. There are so many in my little town. One that my sk told me the other night which he told me not to repeat out of superstitious reasons. Weird and bizarre story, though.

If I was happy then, I’m at the other end of the spectrum…okay that’s an exaggeration, but this past weekend was the most challenging that I’ve faced. My group was falling apart and everyone seemed comfortable blaming it on me even though it was a group dynamic problem.

We hashed it out after our language evaluation practice, which I think went pretty well. And I thought that we’d come to an agreement on how to work together from now on but I noticed a distance between some of my cluster mates and I..... Feeling frustrated.

5/20/06

A few really neat things of note happened over the past few days. First of all, the group had quite an adventure while taking the Department of Agriculture white 6-passenger truck up the mountainside to survey the site for a tree planting project as part of a conservation education project for youth. The very first steep hill we went up on the windy roads that curve up the mountainside, we got stuck. The guys, who were standing in the bed of the truck and holding onto the cab of the truck, got out and pushed the truck up the hill. I was in the cab of the truck and we’d jerk forward and then roll back in the heavy truck a few feet very quickly. It was a little scary. I kept imagining us sliding all the way down the steep incline of probably 500 meters. It was worth the trip though. We climbed higher and higher up the hill. We could see the blue layers of sea painted in a wash of watercolor in the background of the landscape of rice fields and woods. I was amazed at how low beneath sea level my town sits. The ocean sat so high on the horizon it looked like clouds instead of sea. It’s so awe-inspiring or …. To see all those streams, trees, rice fields, signs of prosperity and life…especially, before we came across the dry ravines that stood below the trees stumps on the sunken hills, eroded by rain and landslides. There were so many spots along the way that seemed as if they needed to plant trees there, even on the main road, but the government that controls the public property won’t let the department of agriculture touch it. Why I don’t know but I think it seems odd. The need is there…Why would we want to go all the way up into the mountains to plant trees? Maybe we need to rebuild the watershed system on the mountain.

Another neat thing that happened to me: I was returning from a short run. It was just around twilight when I saw the silhouettes of a bunch of children I knew standing on the top of a small hill on the road ahead of me. They were waving and calling me “Ate Moria” which made me smile. I approached them and then kept running. They followed and raced with me. The sound of their giggles grew in hysterical breathless laughter that gurgled into my blood and respiratory system until I felt giddy and breathless and young too. I was running with them with abandon and free of any care in the world. I was back on the golf course playing tag beneath the weeping willows, reaching between the feathery branches for the hand or shoulder peaking through. I was breathless in the cool relief of a late summer night. My sweat turning into a cool trickle as soon as it started to slide down my neck. I felt like a part of something important_ their neighborhood. I felt accepted by this bevy of children as one of their own and that felt immeasurably good. It made all the challenges, the cockroaches the size of D batteries, the dipper showers, the projects that never feel like they will get done, the days when I feel like I can’t remember even how to say I can’t remember….worth while. I am glad and feel fortunate that I already feel I’ve had a lot of memorable moments that make me feel lucky to be here, blessed and willing to face the first 6 months, which everyone says are the most challenging. Bring it on!

5/21/06

Small Red and Brown Ants (everywhere)

Two-way traffic over
the white tiled porch railing,
leading to and from
the abandoned banana peel
The same trails move around my bedroom windowsill
They bite me every once in a while
To see if I’m ripe yet.

5/21/06

Jeepney ride from Balanga to Limay

There are bubble-shaped decals “Socialite” and “Paint your love” on the rear view mirror. The jeep bears similar decal in larger letters where school bus would appear on the round arch of above the cab of the jeep-style bus, announcing the christened name of the jeepney . I think it was “Heaven’s Eyes” or something like that.

Don Henley’s “Boys of summer” is blasting from the stereo even though there are only five passengers on the bus including me. The metal bolted down seats remind me of school buses I took in the 80s in the states but the experience is foreign in every other way. The trip between small towns along national highway always looks so different. It only took me one trip on the bus to be able to identify the town and location of each stop. The bus stops are concrete three wall structures painted with the name of the town in large lean letters with a drawing of a tree or nibah hut. Between towns there are endless rice fields visible between chestnut, mango and avocado trees that line National Highway. Parted neatly into squares by thick high grass.

The large arch that bridges Limay townside and the barangay where I live is hard to miss. “Accept Jesus as Your Lord” commands the mayor in large red painted letters surrounded by four petaled flowers. Bulaklak intended to soften the blow of the dictatorial words, a typical Filipino command. Stern words accompanied by an apologetic smile.

4 Comments:

Blogger Deb said...

Hi dear, its Deb. I LOVED reading all about your experience there. I was just about to go to bed and saw your email about the blog, and stayed up the extra hour to read your entries. Fascinating! You are so far away, living such a different life. I am sure you will enjoy it for everything its worth. I will be here to read about it all! Until your next post...Love you, your friend from your wonder years, Debbie

9:51 PM  
Blogger kathebyrne said...

Hi sweetid
You are such an incredible writer. I feel as if I am there with you and experiencing it all. I love you remember your mommie loves you

12:59 PM  
Blogger Jenie said...

Hi there! I have been bragging about your blog to everyone!! I printed it out at work and read it every free second I had. The bathroom, traffic lights, etc....I couldn't put it down. Your writing is so beautiful and hearing about your experiences leaves me in awe of you. I'm so proud of you! Good luck, be safe, laugh often. Love you. -Jenie

6:24 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

Wow! It is an honor to be able to read your blog. You really do write so well and clearly so that it helps me to experience so much from such a distance. I feel the intensity of so many encounters and a whole new awareness. You are exactly where you need to be.

The moments with your host family are precious. Though I've never been away for long, the moments with my host families are still the most treasured--despite feeling trapped from time to time.

I loved the "Ant" poem and your experience running with the children. Though it doesn't really compare, sometimes I even feel that Locust Point is a bit 3rd world...the random dogs, constant noise, kids always at my door, etc. It's a funny place and I'm sure I will miss many parts of it.

Thank you for sharing your experience with me. It reminds me how our individual experiences are shared on many levels and what it means to be a global citizen.
Jane

7:31 PM  

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