Friday, January 31, 2014

Thoughts on Extending... Holla Batch 271!

So all of us extendees were asked to write an email to the PCVs in Batch 271, who will soon have to decide whether they want to extend their service, as we have. Of course, I went to write "a couple paragraphs," and it turned into 7. The email they will get with my pearls of wisdom is going to be edited down, so I figured It might be valuable to post the full version here. Hope it helps!


At the beginning of 2013, talks of COS began to become more frequent among my fellow 270s. Some people couldn't wait to finish their service, others were happy to still be serving but knew that they would be ready to depart in September, and there was a number considering extensions. Honestly I wasn't positive where I stood. I knew it was somewhere between the regular COS date and an extension. Then one day at school one of my favorite students said to me, "Ma'am thank you for being here. I'm so glad you're with us." I hadn't felt very appreciated in a while, and what he said seemed to flip a switch. The work I was doing WAS making a difference to people in my community. Why had I been interpreting a lack of recognition to mean people didn't appreciate me?

Soon after this, I was talking about my thoughts of extending with a certain soon-to-be-PCVL (who shall remain nameless), and he asked: If you went home in September, what would you be doing with your time? I laughed and said that I'd be sitting on the couch at home, unemployed. He asked if I liked what I was doing here, and I admitted that I did love my work and projects. "So wouldn't you rather be having fun doing that while you can?" he said. The next day I began filling out the extension paperwork.

An extension, just as the rest of a Peace Corps service, has its own challenges. For me, as someone who thrives off of personal relationships, being separated from my closest circle of friends has been by far the most difficult part of still being here. For all those times when you step in goat poo or are told "Ma'am you're getting fat!"... and you know JUST who would appreciate that text...when that friend is halfway around the world and you can't get an immediate response, that's hard.

Luckily I have some awesome co-extendees and have made some great friends in your batch and in 272! That has been one of the highlights and benefits of extending for me! I never would have met a lot of you if I hadn't stayed. In addition, during my first two years of

service, I would often feel guilty if I had to leave site to facilitate at a friend's camp or do a project somewhere other than my school. Now my outlook is that this is bonus time for them, and while I am still working on my projects at school, I've taken on outside work in my community and with Peace Corps.

The projects I had already established at my site before extending have continued to flourish since I've still been here. I feel like what I have done is more likely to become sustainable because of the extra time I have had establishing it with my counterparts. I can really see how my hard work is paying off, and I don't think I had seen that as much at this time last year. It's really cool to feel like you've actually accomplished something that will help people once

you're gone. Maybe that's a selfish way to think of it, but isn't our selfless work of volunteering actually self-serving, too? I know that I learn and grow more every day that I'm here. We all have our "aha!" moments in Peace Corps... extending just gives you more of those.

In addition, it seems that I'm getting things done more efficiently now. I know the ropes, I know how to accomplish things in the Philippine work culture, thanks to my first two years of Peace Corps experience. I don't get as confused or struggle as much with work-related things nearly as much anymore. I know what to expect.

Finally, feedback from the already COS-ed 270s... nobody can find jobs, many of them miss the Philippines, and some even wish they extended. Of course there are wonderful things about being home, but I am SO glad that I decided to stay. Feel free to text/call/email me if you want to hear more or bounce your thoughts/ ideas off someone who has been in your shoes before.


Looking forward to 2014! Happy Chinese New Year!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What Did the Fox Say?

Just like every other uber-pop song, this one has hit the Philippines HARD.  At our Close of Service conference, one of my batchmates put on a playlist of all the top hits during our service… all of the songs that went VIRAL in the Philippines.  It was pretty funny, thinking back to all of the programs and dances we had seen choreographed to these songs.  Among all 43 of us, it had to have been hundreds!

Tangent:  I’m writing this at school, 1pm and my post-lunch crash is hitting hard.  We received a TON of book donations from the US (almost 1,000 books so far!) and today a student found a picture in one of the books.  It’s a middle-aged couple, dressed up all fancy, and on the back it says 1990.  True to form, when I say fancy, I mean this woman is wearing a shapeless green velvet dress with massive shoulder pads.  I put the picture in the recycling bin because, hey, I don’t know them and obviously nobody else does.  However 20 minutes later I found it out on the table again.  Hahahaha!  One of the students had fished it out!  Now everyone is asking me if I know them, and one girl, when she saw the date on the picture she said “Ay!  They are now dead!”   I started laughing and told her it was only 23 years ago and they weren’t that old in the picture… she definitely was still skeptical.  Oh through the eyes of a 13 year-old.

Later she asked if she could see pictures of my family and when she saw my brothers she said “Ay, cuuute!”  Also said my sister and I are “the same,” and my dogs are “fat but cute.”  Not sure what that says about my brothers…  Sorry, guys.  Then I was showing her pictures of my friends from home and I got to my BFF’s wedding pics; right away she coos:  “Oooh napintas nga babae!”   Beautiful girl!  You know who you are J   Oh man.  Despite the fact that the politics at my school drive me NUTS, the kiddos really are the best.

Time has been flying, per usual, and I’m super psyched that I’m going home sooo soon!  My friend and I are on the same flight, too, so I have a kasama (Filipino term for companion or travel buddy) all the way to Minneapolis!  I arrive home two days before Thanksgiving… cannot WAIT for the feast!  This includes COOKING for the feast.  I always love the prep; not that I’m any Martha Stewart in the kitchen, but it’s the whole being-around-family part that gets me. 

The kitchen gets super warm from the stove and oven being on, the counters are covered in flour and batter droppings, ingredients are everywhere, cooling racks are set up in the dining room and will soon be adorned with cooling cookies, pies, and other delicious treats.  Bro #1 is probably walking around, eating peanut butter and oatmeal while fixing something in the basement or garage, bro #2 is probably making fudge and watching a black and white foreign film from 1970 with German subtitles while chatting on facebook and writing a term paper, sis is probably making macaroo and cheese or the famous cranberry mix recipe from the fair years ago, otherwise she’s being super helpful raking outside (I always prefer scrubbing the toilets instead).  Dad is probably carrying cords of wood from the pile out back and stoking the fire while the dogs follow him inside and outside, inside and outside.  Mom is probably multitasking, on the phone with one of her siblings while doing a frantic cleaning of the house before guests arrive.  Me?  I’m probably either watching trashy reality TV and passing out on the couch or making my world-famous cookies.  I think my family forgives my laziness JUST because the cookies are so good.

How’d I do, guys?

The excitement of going home and seeing my friends and family is what has kept me going the past three months.  This has been a really tough time for me, honestly.  I’ve been doing a lot of sweet stuff with Peace Corps, and nothing too bad has happened with my projects at site (just typical frustrations), but being here without the majority of my batch has been hard.  Like, something hysterical will happen that reminds me of someone in particular or a memory I shared with someone, and all I want to do is text them and hear back within minutes… but instead I have to settle for waiting until I get to the internet shop, emailing that person, and waiting for a reply since they’re 12 hours behind me.  Most of the time I forget what happened by the time I can get to working internet.  Meh.  Thankfully I am close with several of my fellow extendees and have been making a lot of new friends during run-ins with the other two batches here.  So it’s not that I’m alone, by any means.  It’s just that things are DIFFERENT.  And change is hard.  And I have to say, experiencing such a drastic change, such as your friends returning home, while you’re still serving in the Peace Corps is VERY hard.  Although we’ve had two years to adjust to the culture and lifestyle, it will never be ours.  And sometimes you just want a flushing toilet, you know?

However, there are some new developments that I have to look forward to in 2014… I don’t want to get into them yet because nothing is set in stone BUT it’s all very exciting.  Lots of potential.  Lots.  I think my time home will re-energize me and give me the inspiration to come back to the Philippines and kick butt for my last 9 and ½ months!  Woo! 

As far as some of the sweet things I’ve been doing with Peace Corps go, here’s the latest:

I’ve found my calling!  Last week was the Padayon Mindanao Youth Leadership Camp!  I’m not going to re-explain Padayon because I think I did that in one of my last posts.  Anyways there were 40 youth leaders, ages 15-24.  20 were from the Bicol region, 20 were from Mindanao.  The 6 and ½ day camp covered topics such as self-awareness, decision making, action planning, teambuilding, communication, risky behavior, leadership, and volunteerism.  We did team-based projects and activities, including a bridge building competition, invention convention, and Padayon Olympics!  We played Pinoy Henyo (kind of like “The $10,000 Pyramid,” for those of you who either watch Game Show Network or are over the age of 40—sorry), had trivia madness (madness, madness, madness), a movie night featuring The Mighty Ducks, and finished off the week with, OBVIOUSLY, a talent show. 

Before the talent show, each team navigated through a labyrinth of chairs, arranged in a way which would encourage everyone to reflect on the week and their experience at the camp.  By the time my team and I emerged from the labyrinth, tears were streaming down the kiddos’ faces.  When I asked, they assured me that they were happy tears.  We went around the circle and each said something about the week or something we were feeling.  It was SUPER emotional and really touching, to hear how much it impacted them.  Then afterwards having kids come up and hug me saying “thank you ma’am, thank you, I will miss you ma’am,” sobbing and holding on for dear life… even two of the boys (which I’ve NEVER experienced or seen happen anywhere).  All of the youth were just SO appreciative to have been there and thankful for the opportunity.  Most have never experienced something like Padayon, and some probably won’t ever again. 

It really made me think.  I feel like extracurricular activities and opportunities for youth outside of school are very common in the States.  Every summer (and winter, I think) our town recreation department sends out a pamphlet of all the activities you can sign your kids up for.  There are pages and pages of various clubs and camps for people of all ages and interests.  And I live in a pretty small town.  Sure, not everyone can afford them, but oftentimes schools or towns have extra funding to support children whose families cannot afford to pay.  Not always, but often.  Sometimes the things offered are one-time events, but typically they are monthly, weekly, or even several times each week.  And you know what?  Americans spend their hard-earned money to sign their kids up for these activities and then skip or miss meetings for one reason or another.  We can’t get a ride, we have too much homework, we have too much else to do, we’re running late, we “don’t feel like it today…”  Now, I’m not trying to shame or berate my fellow Americans for this (I’m guilty of this, for SURE), however when we do miss a meeting or event, it’s often “not a big deal.”  I think we take these opportunities for granted.

Watching how active and engaged the Filipino youth were at the leadership camp was just amazing.  When we were planning the event, we made sure to schedule things from 8am to 11pm, because of course young people have a ton of energy.  But EVERY night, 11:00 came around and they were still bouncing off the walls with excitement and enthusiasm!  Us facilitators PASSED OUT immediately afterwards, but kept hearing the participants up into the wee hours.  There was NO missing anything.  The kids (I should stop calling them kids because some weren’t much younger than me, but oh well) were so participative, I think, because they never get such opportunities or chances to do things like this.  They are either working at school, at home, or at their jobs.  Extracurricular activities do exist, but typically only in schools, and they hardly ever meet because school lets out at 5pm and everyone needs to go right home to do chores and help their families.  Trainings and community events obviously cost money, something which is NOT typically available or budgeted for by any group or organization.  And most families certainly do not have the money to send their kids if there’s a fee to pay.  Therefore if you are invited to something, YOU GO.  You put your heart into it, and you work hard to make the most of your time there. 

Many of the participants will probably never see each other again, but who knows?  Maybe someday they will be government officials or work for a large organization and get the chance to travel around the Philippines or even the world!  They inspired me, and for sure inspired each other.  It was an amazing week.

Something else amazing I experienced this month: All Saint’s Day!  Halloween isn’t typically recognized in the Philippines, but on November 1st, families honor their relatives who have passed away by celebrating!  This year I went with several of my friends to the Manila North Cemetery to see the festivities.  The only thing I can compare it to is Boston on the 4th of July!  People are typically buried above ground in this country, so families are sitting around the tombs, eating food and chatting together.  Vendors were selling everything from snacks to souvenirs and trinkets to cell phone “load”  (similar to pay-as-you-go phones in the US… most people use this system).  Dunkin Donuts even set up a stand! 

The interesting thing about Manila North Cemetery is that not all of its occupants are deceased.  It is estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 people call the cemetery home.  When you look into some of the tombs, there are little beds, dressers, radios, and even TVs set up (working off portable generators).  Families will pay people who live there to keep their relative’s tomb clean and looking nice.  One of our volunteers actually works at the cemetery; he teaches the youth that live there.  He said people pay about 600 pesos (about $15) per year for this service.  However, most residents will care for many tombs at a time- sometimes dozens!  In the Philippines, this amounts to a LOT of money for people who have nowhere else to live.  It’s really quite interesting.  Anyways, that day we were amongst thousands of Filipinos at the cemetery.  The national news covered the event, and some people stayed for several days!  It was by FAR my favorite experience in Manila, and one of the most interesting days of my whole service.  I’ve never seen anything like it, and probably never will again.  This is a pretty remarkable tradition.  I’m really glad I was able to be there!

I’m going to end on a much more serious note.  I realize there is a very significant topic that I haven’t covered in this entry.  In the wake of typhoon Yolanda, the most powerful in recorded history, the Philippines has been struck with destruction and devastation.  The country is in a very vulnerable location, unprotected from the many storms that rage across the Pacific Ocean.  Unfortunately the infrastructure improvements and disaster preparedness in the Philippines is no match for the fury that encompasses these storms.  Often the areas most affected by these storms are Mindanao, the Visayas, and southeastern Luzon.  I’m very lucky that my site is often spared, but I should never take it for granted.  In the past week, Peace Corps has airlifted 37 volunteers via Philippine military cargo aircraft out of their work sites in the Visayas.  Some of the worst affected are the islands of Samar, Leyte, and Negros. 

Last weekend I was traveling back through Manila and ran into a group of those volunteers.  All but one were from the new batch that had arrived (and I met) in July.  I remembered their fresh faces; they were optimistic and excited to begin their Peace Corps journey.  Those same faces were now filled with shock, horror, and confusion.  They seemed so lost and uncertain, and my heart broke for them.  It was really difficult for me to listen to, but I knew they needed someone to talk to.  Most opened up to me about what they saw and experienced.  Peace Corps sent mass texts to all volunteers, and told those in danger areas to consolidate at their emergency locations.  Initially the group consolidating in Tacloban were split into two groups because they couldn’t find a hotel with enough space for all of them to be together before the storm came.  Luckily, once the storm passed they were able to reconnect, and the 12 of them had to walk four hours through the destroyed city, carrying their bags of clothes and emergency supplies to the airport.  One of them was from the previous batch, and had lived there for a year.  The other 11 told me that he saved their lives, because they wouldn’t have known where to go or how to get there without him.  I don’t want to get into graphic details about what they saw, but if you can picture what a demolished city of thousands of people looks like after it is leveled… well that’s it. 

When they arrived at the airport, they found that they were not getting on an airplane.  The airport and landing strips were destroyed and impassible.  However Peace Corps had contacted the Phillipine military and told them to wait, because the volunteers were to be airlifted back to Manila.  The volunteers, soaking wet, packed into the cargo aircraft, and sat on the floor with hundreds of Filipinos, lucky to get off the island.  Some of the volunteers still have not heard from their host families or anyone in their communities.  Others got word that their towns are now “off the map,” whatever that means.  Many aren’t sure if they will ever be able to return to their sites; others are not sure if they ever WANT to.  I’ve never seen a group of people in such a state, and I’m having trouble dealing with it.  Thankfully I’ll soon be home with my family.  Not everyone else is so lucky.

Although I didn’t want to leave you with a horrible story, I wanted to pay respect to the situation and what this country is suffering through right now.  Please say prayers for the Filipino people, who have all been affected by this horrible disaster.  Also send thanks for the rescue of our Peace Corps Volunteers.  If you have the means, please consider making a donation to relief efforts.  $5 can support an entire family for several days.  Please contact me for more information about contributing.

I’ll end with a quote I found on Pinterest.  Not sure who said it, but it made me feel a little better.

“Life is never easy.  So whatever comes to destroy you, stay firm and be as brave as you can be.  You might be upset, but never lose hope, and most especially, never give up.”

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“I’ve Been Working Like a Dog”

What did the Beatles mean when they sang that phrase?  Our two dogs at home are pretty darn lazy 23 hours out of the day.  Anyways, since the end of June it seems I’ve been working like… some kind of animal that DOES work really hard.  Maybe the dolphins at Sea World?  Although, lucky them, they play in the water all day.  I haven’t been to a beach or pool in almost three months.  Wouldn’t you think that living in a country surrounded by water, my life would be quite different?  Nevertheless I suppose it makes me appreciate the ocean even more when I DO get to go there.  In 3 and ½ weeks I’ll be going back to Palawan!  This time my friends and I will be going to Coron, which is a huge SCUBA site.  I’ll definitely be snorkeling it up once again!

To catch y’all up on life here: the first week of August my batch had our Close-of-Service conference in Bataan.  To describe it in one word: EMOTIONAL.  It reminded me of what the last week of high school was like.  Nervous excitement and enthusiasm, as well as some apprehension for what was coming next.  Of course, for a handful of us, Peace Corps deemed it our “Continuation of Service” conference.  The very last night of the conference, everyone went to the beach together, there was a bonfire, music, and videoke (of course).  It was sooo awesome.  My heart felt so full.  I was kind of a mess, knowing that this marked the end of an “era,” of sorts.  And that our batch family was splitting up and going our separate ways.  It’s really intense, how close PCVs get to each other.  One of my friends announced to the group at one point, “You talk to your friends about your relationships.  You talk to your BEST friends about your poop.”  We all had a good laugh at that, because I’m pretty sure all of us know some pretty graphic details about others’ bowel movements and bizarre gastrointestinal experiences.  That’s what happens when you adjust to the local water, food, and weather.  During training, one of my fellow volunteers was constipated for 16 days and every morning we greeted this person with “Good morning!  Poop yet?”  My apologies for sharing this with you all; I’m just making a point  J

So that was tough… I got back to site and tried catching up on work… then I left the FOLLOWING week to facilitate at the Padayon Mindanao Literacy Summit in Legazpi, Bicol.  It was super awesome.  I had a fantastic time.  Four of us PCVs facilitated the sessions with Filipino counterparts; my sessions were about remedial reading.  The other sessions focused on English skills and how to apply them in different situations.  One group talked about history and civic engagement, another focused on environmental awareness, and another was everyday math skills.  There were 40 participants: 20 from the Bicol region, and 20 from Mindanao.  It was a really awesome cultural exchange; not just between Americans and Filipinos, but also the Bicolanos and Mindanaoans.  There is a very negative stigma surrounding Mindanao and its people.  It is assumed to be a very violent place, and the people to be violent as well.  Mindanao has the largest population of Muslims in the Philippines, which I think also contributes to many Filipinos’ prejudices against them.  However I truly believe that these prejudices stem from basic ignorance of what Islam is.  Yes, there is more violent conflict in Mindanao.  However it doesn’t reflect the religion.  Unfortunately I think many Filipinos see these two aspects: Islam and terrorism existing in Mindanao, and they immediately correlate the two.  It was so great to see the participants meet each other and build an understanding of their ways of life.

One really moving moment was when a teacher from Mindanao spoke of how she was not able to return to school one day because the building had been blown up the day before.  The first reaction was mumbled laughter in the crowd.  Our Peace Corps program specialist, who coordinates and runs this whole project, immediately stepped in and adamantly explained that the speaker was not exaggerating; this was a serious issue and was not to be joked about or looked down upon.  Right away you could see a change in the facial expressions of the people who had laughed.  They hadn’t understood the true severity of the issues teachers face in Mindanao.  By the end of the literacy summit, those same participants were asking what they could do to HELP.  It was so awesome.

After the literacy summit ended, I made my way back to Manila, where I stayed for a few days because my PCBFF (Peace Corps Best Friend Forever) was COS-ing.  Closing her service.  We did some fun stuff those days, and I had a complete mental breakdown the night she left.  That was no fun.  However she gave me a bunch of stuff she didn’t need, so I added it to my collection of STUFF in my apartment!  Nice inheritance!  Once I got back to site, I settled in for a week and then left AGAIN to facilitate at a teacher training at my friend’s site.  It was really interesting, actually.  There were 100 teachers from the district there, and the content was surprisingly a bit different from what I’ve done here.  So that was cool.  Once the two-day training ended, I hopped on a bus and went back down to Manila.  Arrived at 3am, passed out at the hotel for a few hours, then got on a plane to Bacolod, Negros Occidental to be “peer support” at the second Padayon literacy summit there.  It was the same event that I facilitated at in Bicol, but this time around I was helping out with logistics and providing feedback and assistance to the volunteers and staff.  It was really cool to see the event from a different perspective.  I got to sit in on all the sessions too, which was cool.  Learned some fun activities I can use in the future, too!

That was a full week, and afterwards I returned to site, where I stayed for a full two weeks (WHOA).  Then, back to Manila to plan for the Padayon Youth Summit.  This is going to be super awesome.  It’s a 6-day camp in which we teach Filipino youth (age 16-24) to become leaders and facilitate events.  The first day we work with 40 of these youth on leadership skills; the second day we focus on facilitation skills; the third day we prepare for the next two days.  Day four and five will be a youth camp for 200 (!) kids, led by those 40 youth leaders we trained!  Day six will be a processing and concluding day, with reflection and training on how to plan these types of events in the future.  I think this is going to be sooo awesome.  It’ll be in early November, so you’ll be hearing about it from me soon.

My whole life I’ve always felt that my passion and calling is teaching in a school setting.  However one thing I’ve realized just recently is that my perspective has changed, after a lot of the work and events I’ve facilitated at here.  I do think teaching will always be a big part of my life, but I feel like I’ve been happier and enjoyed teaching more in an out-of-class setting.  Like with my freshman orientation?  Amazing.  My friends’ youth camps?  Sooo bomb.  My HIV/AIDS training was super inspiring as well.  I think I’m more about teaching life skills and youth empowerment, as opposed to academic material.  For sure I’ve enjoyed creating and implementing my remedial reading program; however I’m even more passionate about my library because I see how using a library is a transferrable skill in everyday life.  Not to say that reading isn’t a life skill, because it obviously IS… I’m not sure how to really explain how I’m feeling.  But what I know is that this is my THING.  Which brings me to my next topic!

A friend of mine who is also doing the Padayon program was recently telling me about an awesome event she had at her school.  It’s called “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) and it’s a camp that teaches young girls (high school age, typically) about leadership, gender stereotypes, body image/self-esteem, healthy relationships, and adolescent health.  My friend went on and on about how amazing it was, and I was sooo inspired.  So I texted a friend of mine, who is also extending her service for a year, and we decided we are going to do GLOW camps at our sites!  One will be at her site in April, and the other will be at my site in May!  We are going to apply for a Peace Corps grant, round up volunteers and local counterparts, and do the whole thing together.  She is an AWESOME volunteer and one of my closest friends here, so I’m suuuuper pumped for this whole project!

I’m at site for three weeks now, and I’m currently coordinating an English Language Camp for college students October 17th-19th.  Four volunteers are coming up to help out, and it should be really fun!  We’re going to do basic “macro skills:” reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  It ends the afternoon of the 19th, and that night I’ll travel to Manila to work with Peace Corps staff to plan the current batch’s Mid-Service Training.  They have been at their sites for just over a year now, and the conference is mostly used to support volunteers and provide them with help, ideas, or inspiration.  The one-year mark is a slump for many volunteers (including myself, at this point last year).  After planning, I’ll go to MST to be “peer support,” especially for the education volunteers.  This week our sector manager left Peace Corps for a higher position at a different organization.  While PC is looking for her replacement, the education volunteers (especially the new batch) will be without a sector manager.  Luckily all of staff is super supportive and will help PCVs with anything, but if the volunteer has job-specific questions, the sector manager is the one who really specializes in those issues.  Therefore, Peace Corps asked if I’d come to the conference to help out.

Right after MST, I’m taking my first break in a looooong time and going to Palawan (like I mentioned earlier) for a few days with a couple friends.  It’s going to be so nice to just relax for once.  I haven’t fully kicked up my heels since April.  Eek!  Working too hard.  Ha.  Anyways right after that mini-break, I’ll be heading back to Bicol for the Padayon Youth Camp!  Finally I return back to my site, where I’ll be for 12 days.  Then…. Da da da daaaaaa!!!  I head to Manila and then HOME!  And that’s HOME home.  As in, USA!  So I put my hands up, they’re playin my song, the butterflies fly away… party in the USA!   (Yup just quoted Miley Cyrus.  Whatchu gonna do about it?)  November 26.  Logan Airport.  Be there or be square J

P.S. Just realized this entire thing was about work.  Here’s a good anecdote for y’all…

Let’s backtrack.  One of the first nights at my host family’s house during training, I sat down to dinner and a (deep fried) chicken head was staring me in the face.  My eyes bugged out and my stomach flip flopped.  In the bowl were ALL of the parts of that chicken.  Now, to someone who had never eaten any animal that could be identified by its parts (okay I guess we do cook turkeys and chicken from the grocery store… but not with the head or claws), this was a shock, to say the least.  I stared down at my plate for the rest of the meal and couldn’t look up, especially when my little host brother took the head and happily knawed away.  That’s one memory that remains so vivid in my mind.

So last month our congressman came to our school.  When we have special guests we always have a big feast for lunch and everything; of course it’s a big deal.  Anyways I’m sitting at the table with everyone, and we’re all serving ourselves.  I put my rice and vegetables on my plate, and there’s a soup with chicken in front of me.  The soup itself was translucent, so I couldn’t see into it, but part of the meat was sticking out of the broth so I could identify what it was.  Okay, let’s get some chicken.  I stab it with my fork and as I slowly pull it out of the water I realize it’s a leg.  Okay, normal.  As it fully emerges, the leg is followed by massive talons.  For a split second my eyes did an instinctual pop, and I quickly caught myself.  Placed it on my plate; no big deal.  Obviously I had to act like everything was fine, and after a few minutes I realized… it wasn’t bothering me at all.  Then I realized I had made a major cultural adjustment.  This was totally normal, having the foot on my plate next to the rest of my food.  I can’t say that I ate the foot; that bad boy remained untouched.  However I enjoyed the rest of the meal, not grossed out by the “adidas” (which Filipinos jokingly call chicken feet—get it?).

It was actually a nice moment that I enjoyed to myself.  Integrating into the culture is one of the big things Peace Corps is about.  It’s one of the reasons why we get such a small living allowance each month.  We don’t experience our host country as tourists do; we are not “rich Americans” here.  It’s actually a really valuable lesson, and I’ve learned a lot from it.  Plus, now I’m pretty sure I could go on Fear Factor and eating nasty things would be no big thing.  Joe Rogan, eat your heart out.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chickity China, the Chinese Chicken

Couldn't decide on a title for this post.

As I sit here in my school library during lunch, students are milling around like busy bees.  Two are flipping through People magazines, one has her nose in Charlotte’s Web, seven are browsing through the shelves, talking quietly amongst each other… while a boy on the other side of the room continues to read an encyclopedia.  Ever since we received our first large book donation in June, this boy has had a different encyclopedia in front of him every day at lunch.  I just think it’s so cool.  Who reads encyclopedias for fun?  I find it pretty inspiring.  Definitely not something I would’ve done at 14 years old.

The bell rings and I’m embracing the solitude.  Our history teacher installed the four ceiling fans a few weeks ago and they are amazing.  Awesome investment.  Not that WE paid for them.  Early this year I applied for and received a grant from Peace Corps for this library project!  It covered mostly everything we need: supplies, equipment, etc.  My library committee has been super enthusiastic and participative.  However three weeks ago I left site to help with the new PC batch’s orientation, and gave my kiddos a list of things they can do independently while I’m gone.  Was any progress made?  Nope.  Mehhhhh L  I’m pretty bummed and disappointed about it, thought maybe when I left everyone lost interest in the library.  But when I saw the same amount of kids show up during lunch, I felt a little better.  I guess they just need someone to stay on their butts to make them get stuff done.  I WILL BE THE ONE.

Life is good on this side of the world.  We’re in rainy season now, so the weather isn’t unbearable anymore.  My landlady’s dog had puppies again, five little furballs-- SO cute.  I came back to find that my counterpart had done two out of the three remedial reading classes I left her to do.  My head almost exploded with happiness at that.  SUCCESS!!!  PROGRESS!!!  That was pretty awesome.  Plus I’m almost glad she didn’t do the third, because it’s a fun lesson and now I get to do it with the kids instead.  Hahaha J  Peace Corps invited me to facilitate at two more events; one in August and one in November, which is pretty cool.  Lots of fun, interesting opportunities to learn new skills.  I’m excited!  In addition to all that fabulousness, my plane tickets home have been booked!  I’ll be back home November 26th, just in time for Thanksgiving!  And it’s going to be lovely because I fly back January 2nd--- spending the whole holiday season with my family and friends.  I’m so happy.  And actually can’t believe it, because it’s only four months from now!  Craaaazy. 

I know I’m going to need the recharging of my batteries then, big time; most of my batch is completing their service in the next month or two.  Some of my best buds will still be here another year with me, and I’ve made friends in the other two batches here… but there’s something much different about the people who started with you and have been there from the very beginning of Peace Corps.  I’m sensing a major mental crisis coming in September.  Luckily it seems I’m going to be plenty busy, per usual.  So maybe it’ll keep my mind off of the inevitable loneliness I’ll be feeling.  I was already feeling some of it this past week.

I spent the last three weeks helping facilitate the training of Pre-Service Training staff and arrival of Batch 272 Peace Corps trainees down in Manila and Cavite.  It was funny, because when the new kids on the block arrived, they were asking questions questions questions questions questions questions questions…. 24/7.  It was overwhelming, although I also felt good because I was able to give valuable advice and guidance to them.  Their orientation was held at the same facilities ours was, and when the six of us “Resource PCVs” arrived, I think we were all a little nostalgic.  Everything looked exactly as we remembered it.  One PCV was from the batch before mine, so he has been in the Philippines for almost three years!  There were two of us from my batch, and three from last year’s batch.  It was a good mix of us; a diverse group of people with all different personalities, experiences, and strengths. 

The tough part of being there though, was realizing that our two year contracts are almost over, and although I’m super happy and excited to still have more than a year left here per my extension, I’m really sad that it’s ending for most of my batch.  My batchmates have become my family away from family, just as the Philippines has become my home away from home.  When I’m having a bad day, I know someone who understands is always just a text away.  When I’m having a good day, I know that I can help brighten up someone else’s.  And it’s been like that this whole time; this back-and-forth of sharing and caring for each other.  The support system that evolves between volunteers during a Peace Corps service is basically the Camp David of all support systems.  Lots of secret stuff happens within it, and no outside force could ever break it.  We are stuck together for life.
Another day, another piso.  Brain was melting so I had to stop.  The heat is ROUGH when you’re trying to get stuff done.  (I realize yesterday I said the heat wasn’t that bad.  Compared to summertime, it isn’t.)  I’m back in the library, counting down 54 minutes before school lets out.  The room is packed with students working on some art projects.  They’re always having some themed competition.  I’m guessing this is for nutrition month, since it is July.  One girl just asked if she could cut up the People magazines on the library racks for her team’s collage.  NO!!!!!  My goodness, have I taught them anything?  Granted the magazines are looking rough; I really need to repair most of them.  How in the world do librarians take care of magazines?  I haven’t seen a real, functioning library in so long and I feel like a dummy for posing that question.

It was really nice when I got to school yesterday, because I arrived back in town around 5am and decided to sleep for a while before heading to work.  When I did get there, the entire senior class was in the outdoor gymnasium for P.E. and when they saw me, I received a chorus of “Welcome back, Ma’am!”  Awwwwwwww J  What a nice way to start my week.  Definitely a moment I’ll remember, and a moment that makes me thankful I’m not leaving yet! 

I feel like this post has been anything but cohesive.  And the grammar has been below my personal standards.  I’m super lazy right now, and I’m pretty sure it’s necessary that I finish up so as not to shame myself any further with less-than-adequate writing.  So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!

Monday, June 24, 2013

My Peace Corps Service In Text Messages

As I enter into my third year living in the Philippines, I want to reflect on how much my batch mates and I have experienced together during our Peace Corps service.  Our close-of-service conference is in the end of July, and most of my “270s” are completing their service in August or September.  They will be returning home to “normalcy.”  Although one thing I’ve learned being here is that “normal” is a VERY relative term.  It is also a term that changes on a daily basis, when you move to a new country. 

In order to describe what MY normal is like these days, I’m going to share some of my favorite text messages from other Peace Corps Volunteers.  Re-reading them today made me SO happy that I’m extending another year!

**All names have been omitted to protect the privacy of PCVs**

Sept 9, 2011: Commenting on the sounds coming from our neighbor, the pig slaughterer’s, yard at 10pm: “Is it someone’s birthday?  Good thing that pig wasn’t as loud as the first!”

Dec 14, 2011: “We read ‘The Road Not Taken’ today and I asked my kids to write about a decision they had to make.  One of them said ‘Best decision I ever made was to get circumcised like all of my friends.’  How do you grade something like that?”

Dec 23, 2011: When asked “Why did the little boy cross the road?”:  “Nanang asked him to buy gin at the sari sari store.”

Jan 29, 2012: “Just found an old English textbook called ‘Discovering Your Western Friends.’  Copyright 1976.  We still have three copies!”

Jan 14, 2012: “If it rains while the sun is shining, it means a dwarf is getting married.  That’s according to my host mom.”

Jan 25, 2012: “So pretty much merienda at my school is the time of day when the teachers stuff their faces with food and talk about how fat I am… Could I use this to teach irony?”

Jan 30, 2012: “I have a severe respiratory infection yet again.  My counterpart’s orders are as follows: no peanuts, no apples, no eggplant, not allowed to put water on my back when showering, must wear a mask… where does this stuff come from?”

Apr 4, 2012: “Seen in obscure part of La Trinidad: a beauty salon called “Nu Yu” with a picture of Paris Hilton on their sign.  The picture of her that they chose: her mugshot.  That’s hot.”

Apr 24, 2012: “Microwaves, toilet seats, and hot running water.  Enchiladas and tacos and cold Dr. Pepper.  Clean streets and sidewalks that don’t smell like pee.  These are a few of my favorite things.”

April 30, 2012: “My nurse’s name is Twinkle.  I expected her to come in with a g-string and clear heels.”

Jun 2, 2012: Upon observing a young boy making an unusual purchase at the sari sari store: “I kinda wanted to tell him that beer would’ve gone horribly with the chocolate covered pretzels he was buying.”

Jun 20, 2012: “Congrats on not burning the rice!  And dang for dengue!  Poor (PCV); I guess it’s better than malaria.  Well today, a lizard got too close to the fan and it decapitated him and as I was walking by the monkey’s cage he was giving himself a BJ.”

Jul 12, 2012: “You should tape up an updated serenity prayer next to your desk: ‘Do not accept the things I cannot change… because fast will never be an adverb.”

Jul 27, 2012: “Do you think that some school in the Philippines did a search for best breasts for last year’s nutrition month?”

Aug 3, 2012: “A teacher is working on typing up her exam.  She has a question about California.  There are three of us in the room.  Guess who is NOT consulted?”

Sept 20, 2012: “This country has spoiled me.  I am at this coronation and I can’t help but wonder where MY chair is.  What?  You want me to just sit somewhere?  Do you know who I am?”

Oct 8, 2012: “I was just thinking about (PCV’s) hunger strike comment.  I was imagining what would happen if someone refused to eat around people and I pictured robots malfunctioning, heads spinning around with smoke coming out of their ears saying over and over “You eat na!  You eat na!”

Oct 17, 2012: “First year student just asked if I was American or Japanese.”

Oct 19, 2012: “Yesterday I saw three pigs stuffed into a made-for-pigs trike sidecar… they were hating life and also parked outside the butcher shop right in front of hanging pig heads and hooves.  Where am I?”

Oct 19, 2012: “Well a pig sidecar in itself is something you just have to chuckle at.  The other day I was on a jeep and a lady carried on a chicken, set it on the floor… it started flapping and clucking… the norm.  But then, it FLEWWWW!  Almost made it out but the conductor hanging off the back caught it and threw it back on.  No one on the jeep even turned their head.  You know, just another normal commute to work!”

Oct 31, 2012: “So as part of getting back into the swing of things and running away from my site I went to Mrs. Baker’s Restaurant.  They are in Halloween costumes.  I gave my order to Osama Bin Laden.”

Nov 27, 2012: “American women are so STRANGE.”

Dec 30, 2012: “Thought I was going to have that back row all to myself.  Then, at the last minute, the missionaries came.  Baptist.  Super chatty.  Fell asleep in the middle of our conversation and woke up with my mouth open, head tilted back, drool overflowing.  Slurp.  I’m Peace Corps.”

Jan 11, 2013: “I just found out my governor’s son’s name is Trigger Jon.  Now he’s all set for a career as a rapper or a cowboy.”

Jan 16, 2013: Responding to my description of moldy, dirty dishes in my sink: “I have gotten so used to that, that it’s so whatever to me.  Sorry dude.  Not impressed.  I had a dead lizard in a cup.  I think it fell in and because there was baby powder in it, I think it dried out.  Whatever.  I didn’t throw it away for like three weeks.  Eh.  What.  Ever.”

Jan 21, 2013: “Well I was in a super good mood… until I fell out of the jeep… and then hit my head getting back on.”

Feb 11, 2013: “Just saw a trike with a mud flap that said ‘Vagina Hunter!’”

Feb 14, 2013: “K I really like this guy.  He’s gay.  We’re discussing effective birth control and he said condoms were the most effective.  Our school nurse was like, ‘No!  Abstinence is the most effective!’  The guy looked like he smelled piss.  ‘Ew.  No.  Abstinence is NOT effective.  Let’s be realistic.’”

Feb 19, 2013: “At this point there are some days where I just sit and wonder why I bothered to show up.  Today was going to be one of those days until just now, a teacher, very pregnant, our age, walks into the room commenting on her rather large size.  I ask her when she is expected to “pop.”  My supervisor looks up, also wanting to know her due date.  She takes a second to think and responds: ‘You know… I had my first boyfriend at 17 and was popped that year; my second boyfriend, now my husband, popped me when I was 21 and again a few months ago.  Sir when were YOU popped?’… Time to go home now.”

Feb 22, 2013: “Hasn’t rained for WEEKS.  Then, today on the opening of our combined fiesta/ foundation day/ reunion it decides to rain AND there is a brownout.  I think it’s a safe bet to say nothing is going to happen.  Funny thing is, the same thing happened last year.  I think it’s God’s way of smiting them for trying to celebrate after not accomplishing anything for a whole year.”

Feb 27, 2013: “Thought for HOURS of a mnemonic device for adjective sequence.  Presented to the fourth year students, gave them a chance to make their own.  In less than ten seconds they had come up with one as a group: No One Says All Seniors Can Open My Pants.  (Number, Opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Origin, Material, Purpose).  I’m reading their sentences now and many are about fat, sexy, young, white American chicks.”

Feb 28, 2013: “Another ridiculous program: release of two doves, they throw them up, they fall to the ground.  Their wings are clipped and the birds have been spray painted white, most accurate symbolic gesture to date.”

Mar 6, 2013: “I got a king size Snickers in my last care package.  I must have dreamt I ate it because in the back of my mind I thought it was gone.  Then today I saw it in the bottom of the box.  Whoo!  I think the equivalent of this level of happiness and excitement back in the States would come from winning at least 

Mar 9, 2013: “I’ve drooled more this past year and a half than my entire life I think.  In the van, at restaurants, on my pillow, in church, on my desk…”

Mar 9, 2013: “I need to get better at bringing my camera everywhere.  I’m with my barkada and a large man shows up, Chihuahua in tow, sits down.  Puts a pink shirt on the dog and starts smoking his cigarette, dog on his lap.  Would’ve made a good picture.”

Mar 16, 2013: “When people greet me at 6:30 in the morning with ‘Sir, smile!’… the last thing I want to do… is smile.”

Mar 19, 2013: Upon hearing of my year-long extension: “Well you only have to deal with slow internet for 546 more days.”

Apr 27, 2013: During a conversation about longing for American food more than anything: “Yes, if you were to hold up pictures of a naked woman and a mouthwatering t-bone, I would probably take in the steak before glancing at the girl.”

May 13, 2013: “Off to the polls!  Gotta get some pictures of politicians paying off the voters so I can blackmail them into funding my school projects.  Wish me luck!”

May 13, 2013: “I don’t know what I expected… some exciting climax worth all this campaigning stuff.  But it couldn’t be more boring.  Everyone is just standing watching, quiet murmurs as they fall in line.  Everyone is asking if I’m going to vote.  I said I’m still for sale.”

May 29, 2013: Referring to the optimal six tabos one should use to take a bath, and how many it took a certain PCV: “That’s a great start actually… From 12 going down to ten; more practice and he will surely reach six.” (-the opinion of one of my students)

Jun 11, 2013: “Aisle stool on an ordinary bus to Baguio.  Kuya next to me notices my distress and offers up some moma and his spit bottle.  How can you refuse an offer from the heart?  You can imagine what happens next… Bus’ overactive suspension plus a bump lands a perfectly timed spit on a precious pair of pants.”

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On a hot, hot day in... April

…(name that Raffi song)  School’s out for the summer!  Has been for a while, actually, I just haven’t been here.  As many of you know, I took a two-week hiatus from the Philippines and spent some time back in the States with my friends and family.  I’ll write more about that later, but for now I just have to make an observation.  I’m writing this from outside my school building.  See, usually during the summer I just do my work from home or an air-conditioned building.  However today I decided to make an appearance so I could talk to my supervisor about our library project. 

Now, if you have been to my site before, you know that the process of getting to my school isn’t a simple one.  It’s basically in the middle of nowhere, so tricycles don’t travel here unless they are full… which means you need to wait for passengers.  There have been times that I’ve had to wait more than an hour in town for the ride to leave.  (+PCPPs “Peace Corps Patience Points” for me!)  Lucky for me today, I was the last one to fill the tricycle, so I didn’t need to wait.  Thought I got lucky!  Then I got here, ready to work, walked up to the office and… doors and windows are all closed and locked.  Nobody’s here.  I even tried climbing up the building (via the emergency exit ladder) to get to the library, where some of my work things are stored.  In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best idea seeing as I’m wearing flip flops and not my Spidey-suit. 

So I texted my supervisor… like an hour ago… and I’m just waiting for a response to see if she’s planning on coming in today.  Sometimes she does her work at the provincial office though, so it’s a toss-up if she’ll be here.  However I don’t want to leave if she’s eventually going to come.  Is this silly of me?  Anyways you’d think I’d be reeling mad.  But it’s actually quite beautiful here.  There’s a nice breeze rustling through the trees, it’s super quiet, and all I hear are the birds and critters around me.  Every now and then I hear a motorcycle ride by and kids playing in the neighborhood, but otherwise it’s just me and the clicks of my keyboard.  Funny how a situation can completely change based on how you look at it J

Just the other day I was informed that I have been granted a year-long extension of my Peace Corps contract!  I applied about one month ago and have been waiting on pins and needles ever since, so… Yay!  Now my official Close-of-Service date is October 22, 2014 (also a certain awesome brother’s 22nd birthday)!  The great perk of being granted a full year extension is that I get a paid month leave to go home.  So, friends and family, see you in December!!  I’m super excited for year THREE, especially because of all the work I’ll be able to get done.  Although I had a really successful year with my remedial reading students (average grade reading level of my 7th grade students went from 7.2 to 8.6!), there’s still a lot that I want to work on, as far as the curriculum is concerned.  I’ve also been asked to hold teacher trainings in my province for remedial reading, since many teachers were never taught how to follow a remedial reading program.

Second, my grant application for our school’s library was approved last month, and we’re ready to get going on it!  From January to March, I worked with a group of students to teach them about the ins and outs of a library, and this June they will conduct our school-wide trainings!  I’ll be there to support them, but they will be in charge.  My rationale for this is that the students will be able to do this again at the beginning of every school year, even after I’m gone.  Sustainability!!  Anyways, we’re going to be doing a major HGTV-esque makeover on our library.  Fixing windows, tables, chairs, shelves, getting book donations (learning how to write thank-you notes!), cataloging the entire library collection, getting new lounge furniture, fans, and so on.  We should call up Xhibit for a “Pimp My Ride: Library Edition.”  Anyone think it’d be MTV-worthy?  Hmmm actually Teen Mom would probably win out with the ratings.  Oh well.

Just got a text from my supervisor- she’s not coming in.  Guess I’ll go home.

Awesome.  Walked inside my apartment.  Brownout.  Looks like a Solano trip!

Okay in Solano, air-conditioning it up.  That’s better.  Anyways, to continue…

THIRD awesome thing about my extension:  I’m going to be branching out and getting involved in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program in my province.  ALS is a DepEd initiative which reaches out to out of school youth and non-traditional students.  Sometimes these learners live too far from a school, cannot afford school, or are adults seeking an education (similar to what the American GED program is like).  Of course, there are many other situations ALS learners are in, but these are just some examples.  ALS teachers are completely separate from the traditional school teachers; they are often termed “mobile teachers,” meaning they move around.  Sometimes they go house-to-house, teaching.  Other times they teach in community centers, and sometimes just under trees!  It’s a really special, unique program, and I’m really excited to get involved.  Remember back in October, when I facilitated at the Tudlo Mindanao English Camp (I would’ve blogged about it in November)?  Well the participants were ALS teachers.  They really inspired me, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity.  I’m going to meet with our provincial coordinator, so we will decide what my role will be, but for now, just the prospect is awesome to me!

Lastly, who even KNOWS what else I’ll get myself into during my last year?  I seem to always find lots of things to do at site and with Peace Corps!  This is just such a cool job.  I feel like I have so much freedom as to what I can get involved in and work on, and it’s all up to me!  For sure, there’s a certain level of structure to it all, but for the most part, being a Peace Corps Volunteer is awesome because you can mold your assignment around what YOU are interested in!  For example, one of my friends is really into music, and has started a big music program at her site with her kids.  Another friend is all about the environment and has started lots of eco-friendly initiatives in his town.  Another friend has a passion for working with children with disabilities, so she got involved in her city’s SPED program.  My love for reading and writing has turned into the remedial reading, library, and creative writing projects. 

I know the next batch of volunteers has recently been invited to serve in the Philippines, and many read our blogs (as I did, before starting my service).  So here I am, just plugging Peace Corps.  Figure out what your passion(s) are, and bring them with you!  Your invitation may say you will be teaching English/literacy, but in NO way does that mean you’ll be standing in a classroom for two years.  Granted, if that’s what you love, for sure, go for it.  However, if the thought of teaching freaks you out or makes you feel bored about what you’ll be doing (I know a LOT of my batch mates felt that way at first), don’t worry.  I promise, if you make an effort at integrating into your community and making connections (Network, network, network!  Thanks, Dad!), you’ll have no problem finding things you love to do and ways to help.  Peace Corps is going to ask you to send a final resume around this time, so include some of the fun stuff you do at the bottom.  That’s how my school found out that I used to swim and dive; hence I’ve been the swim coach for two years! 

Anyways, I’m super excited for Batch 272 to come in July because I will be the lead education resource volunteer at their Initial Orientation, for their first two weeks in country!  So if you’re going to be an education volunteer, I’ll see you soon!  Get excited!

Alright, back on track.  So, my visit home.  Not gonna lie to you guys, I was having MASSIVE anxiety traveling home.  Panicking in the Manila airport, as my plane was boarding.  Part of me wanted to turn around and walk out of the building… luckily the reasonable part of me reminded myself that I paid a ridiculous amount of money for the flight and could NOT be that foolish.  Anyhow I stood at the gate with my ticket and passport, wringing my wrists, tears welling in my eyes, just COMPLETELY freaking out.  I was the last person to board.  My flight was Manila to Nagoya, Japan to Detroit to Boston.  Got to Nagoya, enjoyed my last squat toilet, had ANOTHER freak out, was again the last to board.  Stepped into the terminal in Detroit and my eyes literally bugged out of my head.  Returning to America after a 21-month exodus resulted in utter shock.  Everyone was either:
1.       Overweight
2.       Tall
3.       White
4.       All of the above
I went into the ladies’ room to brush my teeth (yuck 12 hour flight), and I was one of the shortest women in front of the mirrors!  I wasn’t the only non-black-haired person, either.  I went into the bathroom stall, and threw my TP in the wastebasket instead of the toilet (a mistake I made five other times during those two weeks).  My goodness!

As I made my way to my connecting gate, people rushed by me.  Since when am I a SLOW walker?  My mother raised me as a proud “mall walker”- one who speed walks to get to the sales first.  Then I realized that I had spent nearly two years intentionally slowing down my pace to walk at the speed my coworkers, students, and most people in my community walk!  Even on the moving walkways in the airport, people were STILL passing me!  Okay grandma, pick it up.  I got to the gate and put my bag down.  I suddenly realized how quiet it was around me.  Although I was surrounded by 100 or so people, nobody was talking!  Everyone was looking down at their touch screen phones or tablets.  WHAT IS THIS PLACE?!  I had never seen anything like it.  I looked as far as I could see, and found TWO people reading actual books.  What?  Made of PAPER?!  What is this madness?  I stood there stretching, just observing in amazement.  My last flight was pretty short, and flew (pun intended) by.  I was THERE. 

My parents and brother met me at the gate, and it was a wonderful homecoming.  As I had just returned from my vacation also, I was pretty tan.  My mom called me her “brown child.”  Mom.  Offensive.  As we walked down the hallway to our car, suddenly my best friend came bounding towards us.  “I thought I was going to miss you!  I came as fast as I could!”  She’s a riot.  I went home in her car and we stopped at McDonald’s for ice cream cones on the way… I was flabbergasted at how big it was.  I swear, I’ve never seen so much ice cream atop a cone.  Ever.  When we pulled into my driveway, two of my other girlfriends were there, jumping up and down holding WELCOME HOME! signs.  My two dogs came running up; one of them recognized me immediately, the other (not always quite as smart) took a few seconds to realize who I was… it was funny.  And so adorable J

My friends and family all seemed so tall; I had to ask all of them if they had grown.  My dogs looked OBESE!  My first comment was “Wow, they’ve chunked up, huh Mom?”  She was like, “No!  They haven’t gained a pound, either of them!  Don’t be rude to the ladies!”  I then figured it’s because I’d only been looking at mangy, starving street dogs this whole time.  My healthy fluffballs were just a stark contrast to the former. 

I spent a lot of that week with my friends, catching up on life, everything that’s been going on since I’ve been gone.  I learned that there have been A LOT of changes!  I guess that’ll happen in your mid-20s.  New jobs, new houses, new boyfriends… these girls have been BUSY!  I’m impressed, for sure.  It was fun telling them about all the things I’ve been doing and accomplishing here… definitely reaffirmed why I want to stay for a third year.  Lucky for me, my birthday was that week, also!  Since I joined Peace Corps, my brother graduated college, started his career five days later, and moved into his own place an hour away from home.  So for my birthday my parents and I met up with him and his girlfriend, who I hadn’t yet met, for dinner.  (She passed the girlfriend test, J, in case you were wondering!)  Dinner was delicious, and I ate way more than I should have.  Kind of the tone for eating I set during my entire trip home, though. 

That weekend my parents and I went to visit my sister and other brother at their colleges, neither of which I had seen!  My brother started college just after I left for the Philippines, and my sister started a year later, so this was all new to me.  Very cool.  My sister is at a small private school and my brother is at a large public school, which is kind of a mix of my alma mater: a medium-sized public school.  It was really fun to see what their new homes away from home are now.  College feels like forever ago, although I know it really isn’t.  Just makes me realize how far I’ve come… which is weird.  I don’t think I could’ve pictured myself blogging from outside my school in the Philippines.  Kinda funny.

The following week was spring vacation week, which meant that my mom didn’t have school!  We went to see a bunch of my extended family, which was really wonderful.  Although the reunion was under sad circumstances, being around everyone made me really happy.  I am super close with my family, so all the quality time was heartwarming and much needed.  And now that I know I have my year extension, this break actually ended up being at a half-way point, which is nice.  It’s crazy to think how long I’ve been gone.  And that I’ll be home again in only seven months, and after that only another 10.  This all goes by so quickly!  The Peace Corps time-warp is strange.

Back to reality.  Back in the hot Philippines, where my hair is a permanent afro and I am constantly sweating.  Nevertheless LIFE IS GOOD!!!  May should be fun; I’m going to be down in Manila for a week working with Peace Corps on the training manual for the incoming batch.  Then we have our “Brigada Eskwela” (basically school clean-up) week, when we’ll be doing a lot of our library project.  Right after that is our freshman orientation!  Very exciting!  Sorry for the long lapse in blogs- I really need to make a note in my agenda to keep up with it at least once a month.  I’m certainly never at a loss for material!

Signing off.  Keep it real, banana peel!