Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Site Visit

Site visit to my new city:

Flanked by lush mountains, purple from a distance, Siniloan appears small. There are 15 barargays (neighborhoods), some are as narrow as one long street. Others seem to stretch across the city.

The houses look like they are attached to each other by icing. The pink, green and white houses seem to slouch/sink into the ground to one side or the other like the heat of the mid day sun itself is finally having an impact on not just the people hiding in the shade with wicker fans, handkerchiefs and perspiring glasses of sugar water, a confection of my mind, undoubtedly. Or is it because everything here is congealed, coated or cooked in sugar or condensed milk. Maybe that’s why I feel so happy all the time. I do have the worst sweet tooth.

Yet, the houses all have these ornate cages around the windows. The windows seem to mimmick the constant double standards that I see here. You can reach out of the window and feel freedom but you can’t step into it.

The principal is a joker (palabiro) and is always very light-hearted with his staff. Although there are many rules and restrictions imposed on the student body and staff. Apparently, this is to make up for the lackadaisical approach employed in the past. At once point, there was a wall covered with baseball caps that the prinicipal had confiscated over the course of a year, he returned them to their owners in May, of course.

Note about Philippines life in general:
I was watching the news with my host father and one of my co-workers who was visiting and I saw a shocking news report on the nightly news. There was a horrible fire that ravaged an entire block of houses. It looked like the houses had been shanties from the shells that were still visible. The tin roofs curled back like the lid of a sardine can by the fire. Each house, only a few feet wide and deep shared concrete walls with their neighbors as well as poorly constructed electrical wiring slipped through the walls without insulation which was named as the probable cause of the fire.

The news reporter noted that there were 1, 452 fires like this which occurred between January and May in 2006 in Metro Manila. Insane! Is anything being done to help protect poor people from these hazards? No evidence of change, yet. So sad.

May Celebrations
As I rode through a dark street after a meeting, I saw children and families kneeling at small card tables and boxes covered with gold, red, pink and green tablecloths, candles and statues of the Virgin Mary at the doorstep of every household. The children were singing songs. There were some children walking down the street stopping before each doorstep to sing a song. My co-worker told me that it is a tradition in the Philippines that children sing in celebration of the Virgin Mary every Sunday? night in the month of May. (I also saw this occurring in the tiny chapels when I returned to Limay.)

“Magjojogging” around my new home town

My co-worker and I “magjojog” down a side street to avoid on-coming trike traffic on the main street. Adults are bathing in sandals, shorts and t-shirts and pouring water rushing from a pipe in their alley or beside their house. Naked children skitter away from the pipes like a line of dragonflies swooping into the road and then back out again. The houses are linked together in a confusing network of clothes and cable lines.

Annex school in the upland region

I went to visit the annex school in the “upland region”, a more remote area in the hills far from the center of town. I walked around the property with my principle, the head teacher and two co-workers. They were still finishing one building. All the unused property was housing produce (kamates [tomatoes], calabasa [type of squash that looks like a small pumpkin but tastes sweeter] and sweet potatoes) served for breakfast and lunch at the school. I was impressed with the industrious nature of the head teacher and staff.

After we met in the head teachers office and discussed business we concluded marienda, a tradition observed by all Filippinos, (mid-morning and afternoon snack). The head teacher had the janitor climb the coconut trees bordering the school property and cut down a few. After drinking the “boku juice” out of the shell, the janitor handed me a semi-circle shaped piece of coconut shell. He’d carved a make-shift spoon for each of us out of coconut shells. The inside of the coconut is not as sweet as coconut shavings that I’ve eaten from the grocery store in the states. Instead, fresh coconut tastes like a salty/sweet melon, but is so watery and soft that melts in your mouth.

OFW (Overseas Filippino Workers)
OFW is becoming a coming phrase in conversations between co-workers and neighbors here. I haven’t met someone yet whose husband, wife, cousin or aunt isn’t living overseas to try to make money to send back to the rest of the family. Everyone seems resigned or on the verge of resigning themselves to the fact that the only way they can make any real money and break out of the financial hole they find themselves in is to work or send a spouse/relative or support a relative overseas by raising their children. It’s a difficult situation that is also a problem in my first host city. I can’t imagine trying to sustain a marriage from thousands of miles away over the course of two years never mind ten years or more.

It’s Saturday and I have the day off. I traveled to Paete with one of my host father’s employees who offered to show me around. The combination of the rain, old buildings and narrow cobblestone streets had the old-world charm of Old Quebec.

Despite the rain, we found our way from shop to shop. It’s an artist colony of wood carvers, paper machete artists and resin sculptors. I saw some wonderful pieces that I knew were far under-priced for their amazing detail to the faces and ornate designs. Most of the carvings were religious.

We were contemplating the period of the faded oils on the walls of St. James when a man working in the chapel offered to tell us about the paintings. Our conversation became so captivating that before we knew it he was inviting us to view the bell tower. After climbing up a staircase that was only a slightly wider that my shoulders and a few rickety ladders in the base of the tower, we were out on the ledge looking down at Laguna de Bay and probably hundreds of miles beyond to the hazy mainland of Luzon.

Mamba with a little halo-halo
After homemade halo-halo at a sweet shop owned by my co-worker’s lola (grandmother), I worked off the combination of coconut cream gelatin, beans, corn and condensed milk (which is actually a lot better than it sounds) by practicing the Mamba at another co-workers’ house.

I walked into room with a half-painted cement, half-linolium floor air sweeping freely through the open door and window from the large open courtyard with a covered veranda, trees, a neat vegetable garden and a few roosters and chickens. Music suddenly blasting from the speakers above the TV and we are moving across the floor. I am following behind my co-worker like a shadow channeling Fred Estaire, since I know no famous mamba dancers, thinking sweet feet, sweet feet. Isn’t that what his nickname was in his inner circle of friends? I am such a movie geek.

Children start leaning over the window sil and sink into the doorway giggling at the clumsy American trying to dance like their graceful neighborhood idol. After sweating at least twenty ounces, we stopped to recharge. We drank Cola Pop with large pieces of ice cut from a block with a large knife and played bingo with a dozen neighborhood kids, using tiny squares from old rubber sandals to mark the numbers.

Wedding Anniversary Toast
I escaped videoke for the first time at a wedding anniversary party by staying inside and talking to the guests in the living room. As I was about to leave, my principle asked me to come outside and say goodbye to the hosts. A drunken relative asked me to make a toast. I was speechless even though I knew a string of phrases to say, “Mabuhay, Mary and John”, “Maraming anyos ng masaya inyong (many years of happiness to you)”, “ Malingayang bati sa inyong kaarawan ng kasal (happy anniversary)” or simply “Happy Anniversary”. Everyone laughed and a woman came up to me and offered me a shot of “boki”, a coconut wine that is like 80 proof. I politely declined with a laugh and gave the speech and hurried off with a quick “Salamat, po(thank you, sir)”. Peels of laughter followed me. I was okay. I hadn’t been surprised that they asked me to make a speech. The trainers told us to expect to be asked to make impromptu speeches where we go in the first few months when we are going to community meetings and events to introduce ourselves to the community. Somehow, I was regretting not taking that shot after all. (Joke lang [Just joking].)


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