Sunday, March 5, 2017
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Rebecca Maureen: RPCV
That's right, folks, I am officially an RPCV- a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
There are so many emotions whirling around me... I officially closed my service September 24th, but due to a visa mix-up, I have been stuck in Manila for more than three weeks now. Luckily I fly out tomorrow morning! Off to India I go! I'll be journaling a lot while I travel throughout India, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, so I will probably post those once I get home in December! I'm not sure what my internet access will be like til then.
Part of me wants to just GET HOME! However I know I have some incredible things to see during the next 8 weeks... so Massachusetts can wait for a little while longer. Thanks to everyone who kept up with this blog during my Peace Corps service; I hope it provided some insight into the culture of the Philippines and the life of a PCV.
If you watch 'The Office,' you know Andy Bernard, and how he was notorious for talking about how awesome his college experience at Cornell was. In the finale episode, he reflects on his years working at Dunder Mifflin (the office), and how much he loved it. He said now he saw his time there as the "good ole days." Then he adds something like, "I wish you knew that you were already in the "good ole days" while you were still in them." Well for me, I've known for a long time that Peace Corps is my good ole days. It's going to be really difficult to find another job that gives me the freedom to do so many amazing, important projects all the time. And a job with more than 100 colleagues whom I care about deeply. And a job that teaches me not only professional skills but also about myself: who I am, who I want to be, and what I want in my life.
At the beginning of our training, Peace Corps Medical Officers tell us about the "Peace Corps emotional roller coaster." It's a model of how your time as a PCV will, like roller coasters, have highs, lows, and in-betweens. There will be times that throw you into exciting loop-de-loops, and others into downward spirals. I'm not exactly sure what's in store for me once I get home in two months, but I hope I can find something that excites and challenges me as this experience did.
Anyways, again, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed my chronicles-- look for more in December. Although I won't be a PCV anymore, I might continue this blog if my life is still interesting enough to write/read about. Haha :)
Friday, August 29, 2014
It's Raining, It's Pouring
The old man is snoring… like I was this morning. It’s so hard to get out of bed when it’s pouring outside, right? Especially in my apartment, though. I have a tin roof and my bedroom window doesn’t close, so there’s a steady pattering (sometimes splattering or pounding) on the roof and the papaya trees outside. It’s a lovely sound, especially when I’m just lying in bed with the fan and a sheet on me. Mmmm love it J
Then BAH! Peace Corps sent a mass text to all volunteers at 5:45am, saying the email system was back up and running. Excuse me. Unless there’s a typhoon about to tear through my town, do NOT text me until at least 7am. Unlike Filipinos who wake up at 4am to do their laundry, I’d say most of us teachers aren’t up until at least 6:30. And for the PCVs who work with the fishermen or community organizations, many sleep until 8. Peace Corps has been in the Philippines for 53 years. The office should know by now that many of us are not on a rise-before-butt-crack-of-dawn schedule. Cultural thing.
Luckily, this little aspect is almost past me! 27 days before I ring the bell and close my service! It’s so crazy and weird to think about. This month has been the month of wrapping up my projects. The first week of August I was asked to attend the Close of Service conference for the batch of volunteers who began after mine. A fellow extendee and I prepared and facilitated a three-hour session for the PCVs who have decided to extend for a third year like we did. Peace Corps requested that the two of us run the session in order to prepare them for the unique experiences and challenges that they are going to face during the next year.
I have to say, I’m really glad I was able to be there and support them. I feel like I got a lot out of it, as well. I was able to share my insight and perspective on what a third year entails. Honestly, the third year was the most difficult for me. However, it was also the most rewarding. (If one of you 271 extendees is reading this, don’t let this freak you out! You will be SO thankful for this experience, even if it is super difficult at times! I promise.) I know I talked about this briefly in last month’s post, but I want to go into it a little more. The difficult part of my extension was that the majority of my batch mates left. Yes, I’m still close friends with my fellow extendees, but there are some really special friends that I miss ALL the time.
One of the most important things in any relationship, I feel, is communication. Whether it’s a friend, family member, significant other, coworker, or anyone, good communication is essential to fostering a good relationship. And when my friends were all here during the first two years of my service, we were all just a quick text away. We shared EVERYTHING. They have become family. Being away from home and my biological family has always been really difficult for me, but they made it a lot easier. So with them gone, it has been (and to this day, still is) a challenge. I only get to talk to them once or twice a week, like with my family, which stinks. I mean, it makes me appreciate those phone calls, emails and messages a lot more, but it’d be really nice if we were all on the same side of the world in similar time zones.
I’d say that has been the overarching challenge of my service. Every other challenge is the same as always. However, as I said, my third year was also the most rewarding year. I’ve been able to see the fruits of my labor. I was able to finish my projects more thoroughly and with more attention than I would’ve by the end of two years. I would have had to throw them together at the end. But this way, I was able to take more time and do a much better job on them. Because of this, I believe some of my projects have more of a chance of being sustainable after I leave. Also I was able to facilitate at events like Padayon Mindanao literacy summits and youth camps last August to November. I was also asked to help at four Peace Corps training events throughout the year, as a resource volunteer. In addition, my friend and I were able to put on three Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camps! These things have all provided me with more professional experience that I can take with me after Peace Corps. Other than work-wise, I was able to meet and become friends with a lot of other PCVs in the other two batches here. It has been great, because I hadn’t really reached out to any of them before, but now I consider a bunch of them pretty good friends! In addition, I feel much closer to my community. I know more people, and my relationships with those people have grown. It’s a really special feeling, the feeling of belonging. And this third year has made me feel this way more than before, because people see that I’m not just fulfilling a requirement of two years. I CHOSE to stay longer, and that has meant a lot to many people I know here.
Anyways, I’m going to sign off here… it’s time to write my Description of Service (DOS). I’m pretty intimidated by it—it’s supposed to be two pages max, summing up my service in narrative form. How I’m supposed to do that, I don’t know. But now that my projects are all finished, it’s time to GIT ‘ER DONE! Next time I blog will be the last time as a Peace Corps Volunteer! Whoaaa!
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Tick Tock, Tick Tock
Well it has finally hit me. I REALLY am almost done. The clock is really running out now. Only eight weeks to go until the big COS--- Close of Service. It’s time. Not in a bad way; not like I’m sick of it and want to get out. Not that at all. But I’m just in a good place, at peace with everything and ready to move on. Ready to get to my three months of traveling, and SUPER ready to be home!!!
Today is the Nutrition Month celebration—naturally someone brought in a dessert made of heavy cream. Hahaha J And three of the teachers are sitting behind the school chewing betelnut (similar to chewing tobacco, but it’s a nut which turns your teeth and mouth red--- Google “Ifugao men betelnut” and I’m sure you’ll see some pictures). Not much research has been done on the long-term effects of chewing betelnut (pronounced beetle-nut, also known as moma, pronounced moh-muh), but some research has shown that it’s a carcinogen. However, it’s a cultural tradition here in Ifugao, and almost all men chew it. Women do as well, but not as many. It makes my top 10 list of most disgusting things I’ve seen in my life. I don’t like to talk bad about my province, which I love dearly, but I have to say this is something I am SO not proud of. It’s so gross. Like chewing tobacco, you also spit it, however betelnut doesn’t wash off of anything. Therefore almost anywhere you go in Ifugao, the streets are stained bright red from people spitting everywhere. I’m not painting a pretty picture here, I realize this, but I’m just stating the truth. I’ve never tried it, but a few of my friends have and they said it actually gives you a “buzz” similar to an alcohol buzz. What’s really bad is that some parents will even allow their kids to chew it—I’ve seen children as young as 3 with wads of red betelnut in their mouths. It’s sad. Nevertheless it’s a cultural thing and for some reason they’re proud of it… so who am I to judge? But as an outsider, I’m not a fan of it. And when locals ask me why I haven’t found myself an Ifugao boyfriend… well, just look at those Google images and you’ll see why.
Don’t let my anecdote about betelnut taint your view of Ifugao. I have MAJOR Ifugao pride! I feel super lucky to live here, and I honestly wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! They still value their cultural roots and traditions, they’re always helpful and friendly, and they have completely welcomed me into their lives. I love Ifugao! …But not the betelnut ;)
We’re in the middle of rainy season which is both good and bad. Good because thank GOODness it’s not as hot as rainy season anymore! I even wear pants instead of shorts for pj’s some nights. The other day I even put a hoodie on to go to the market! LOVELY. And as I sit at my desk at school now, a cool breeze is blowing through the windows. Fabulous. However the tricky part is that it rains almost every afternoon. And not just rain, but torrential rain. The torrents (is that the noun form?) will only last for about an hour usually, but the rain goes on usually from 4-8 at least. I don’t mind rain, but honestly my gripe is that my pants get muddy easily, which means I have to wash them more often. Hahahah gosh that makes me sound gross. But since laundry has to be handwashed, and is therefore more of a hassle, I prefer getting a few uses out of my pants before they go in the laundry. However that means when mud gets splattered all over them, I’m out of luck. Other than my pants, rainy season is kind of nice. Like I said, it’s a little cooler, plus I like the sound of rain on my tin roof. It’s peaceful. And on weekend mornings it’s nice to lie in bed and listen to the rain. Plus one of my landlady’s dogs always sleeps outside my door because there’s an overhang and he doesn’t get wet. It’s so cute when I open the door in the morning and see him lying there, my guard dog. Reminds me of Lucy and Tess. Hahah it just started to rain outside. 4:30pm, as expected.
The next few weeks will be busy busy, but then I’m done, as far as work projects go. This weekend I’m facilitating at a stress management seminar at my friend’s site in Cagayan. Then we’re going on a tour of the Duba Underground River and Blue Water caves! Cagayan is the hottest province in the Philippines, so I’ll be glad to be spending a lot of the time in caves… hahah J Right from there I’m headed down to Manila and hopping on a plane to Bohol! My friend and I (Batch 270 volunteers) were asked to attend the Batch 271 Close of Service conference, as support for the volunteers who are extending for a third year. We’re going to run a session on expectations vs. realities of the third year, coping strategies, and general Q&A. I wish we had had a 269 extendee come to our COS conference last year, because it would’ve been great to have someone to talk to and ask questions. I really had no idea what was ahead of me. No clue what to expect. And it was okay, but I would’ve liked a heads up from someone who had experienced the third year. For me, my third year has been the most difficult of my service. However, it has also been the most rewarding. I would never take back my decision to stay; I’m SO happy I did. I’m really glad that I can be there for the 271s to give them advice or put them at ease. I think it’ll be really helpful. And for me, I love doing this sort of thing. Supporting people, listening to them and talking things through. I love it. So I’m super excited. (Plus it’s at a fancy schmancy hotel in Bohol! Can’t complain!)
Right after that, my friend and I will go from the conference to the Peace Corps office and close out our grant for the girl’s camp. I have a bunch of errands and other work I need to do there and around Manila, so we’ll be productive for a day or so, and then head to Batangas for a quick beach weekend. It’ll be my last trip to the beach in the Philippines. Hopefully we get some good sun and snorkeling in! After Batangas I’m traveling right up to site, where I’ll be preparing… for another Girls Leading Our World camp at the local college the 16th-17th! Our GLOW camps with high schoolers this summer were awesome, so I’m super excited to do it with college girls. I’m going to have PCVs come up and help again. Yay! After that weekend I’ll have a day of school, then take the overnight bus to Manila because my friends and I got tickets to Showtime! Showtime is a TV show here in the Philippines, and it’s on every single day for what seems like the whole day. Honestly I don’t exactly know, because I don’t have a TV and I’ve never watched a full episode. It just seems that when I’m out and about and see TVs on, any time of the day it seems Showtime is on. It’s an entertainment show where people come and do performances, sometimes there are challenges to win prizes, and lots of people come dressed up in matching clothes or special outfits to get the attention of the hosts. There’s typically audience participation in every episode, so my friends and I are going to dress up at Uncle Sams and Lady Liberties, in hopes of getting noticed! (I doubt we’d be missed though, anyways, as the only Americans in the crowd, but whatev). I’m really excited. It’s a pretty awesome, unique opportunity to see Showtime. Yeeeeeah!
Anyways, after Showtime, I’m hopping on the overnight bus again back to site. I have all day Wednesday to prepare, because Thursday and Saturday I’m doing another GLOW camp for the girls at my school! One of my friends is coming up to help, but otherwise I’m going to have our students who came to the summer camp be the facilitators! It’s another opportunity for them to gain some leadership experience. Love it! So after that camp, I’m DUNZO! I’ll of course still be going to work every day, but it’ll be pretty chill. Nothing major to plan or get ready for, other than saying goodbye L So it’ll be really nice to have a month to just soak it all in. Life here. I know I’m going to miss it a ton, so I’m glad I won’t be spending the last month frantically running around like I often am, with a zillion things on my plate. It’ll be a good transition to the end. *Sigh* The end…
Monday, June 30, 2014
Well, the clock is really starting to tick now… 87 days until my COS (Close of Service)! It’s such a crazy mix of emotions. 90% of me is totally ready to be done. However that pesky 10% is really anxious about leaving the Philippines. It’s not that I’m nervous about being back in the U.S., but I’m more nervous about NOT being here anymore.
Peace Corps is some kind of life “warp.” It’s difficult to explain exactly what I mean – I don’t think someone could understand unless they’ve experienced this themselves – but a lot happens during these two (or in my case, three) years. First of all, time goes on in a weird way. Sometimes it’s flying, the days turn into weeks, into months, and it seems like no time at all. But there are plenty of other times when it seems everything is draggggggggging. Recently I’ve been experiencing a mix of both. Now that I’m nearing the end of service, part of me can’t wait, and therefore it’s going slowly. But in reality, I know deep down that it’s all going quickly. So it’s sort of like my mind is playing tricks on me.
I also think one reason it feels like slo-mo right now is that I’m not super busy with a million things. I recently finished my remedial reading teacher’s manual, which took 30 months to complete. It’s more than 200 pages, and with the addition of an “alternative” reading program, it’s over 300. It was definitely the biggest project of my service. Also, my last freshman orientation is finished, my library project will be done pretty soon, and I’ve just got a few trainings left. I think it’s that I’m not used to having a lot of things on my plate all at once. When I arrived at site, almost three years ago, I hit the ground running. My counterpart is a super high achiever, so we started working on projects and curriculum right away. I don’t need to talk much about work here, as if you’ve been following this blog the whole time, I talk about it constantly. In retrospect, this may have been kind of a boring documentation of my service. Oh well.
Anyways now that things are wrapping up and no new projects are on the horizon, it’s a very weird feeling. On the other hand, more exciting news is that yesterday I booked my tickets for my big post-COS travels! Almost five years ago, when I studied abroad in London (OMGosh I can’t believe it’s been that long!), I joined a group tour around Europe. It was an AMAZING 19 days. I met some of the most fun people from around the world, saw beautiful, incredible places, and have so many fond memories that I’ll cherish forever. When I think back on my semester in London, I always recall those amazing three weeks. So when it came time to start planning what I was going to do after Peace Corps, as far as travel is concerned, my first thoughts were to ask other PCVs.
I began asking around, talking with others who are COSing around the same time. However, it seems that nobody’s plans are going to synch up with mine, either timing-wise or location-wise. And I don’t want to travel around by myself (boring), so I started researching group tours again. Aaaaand there are a lot of options, FYI. There are even tours now that go to Antarctica! I’ve got zero interest in that, but I did find two tours that are exactly what I want! So, from September 26-November 3, I’m going to be making my way around Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia on two different tours! That’s a solid 39 days! One reason I’m super psyched is that I don’t have to do any planning. All I need to arrange is my flight to Bangkok. Whooo!
Then a few days after I finish up my tours, I head on over to Rishikesh, India (!!!), where I’ll be taking a month-long yoga teacher training. Get my “OM” on. I feel like it’s going to be really good to sort of clear my head of everything, after Peace Corps and 6 weeks of crazy traveling. There’s a big meditation aspect of the training, as well as practicing yoga every day, learning how to teach the mechanics, and fully experience the psychological/ physiological benefits of yoga. I have a good feeling that having the opportunity to peacefully process these three years while living in an ashram for a month is going to be really good for me. Some major soul power. I’m really looking forward to it.
And finally, once I finish that, it’s time to hop on a plane and get my butt back to Massachusetts! So excited for the 3 F’s: family, friends, and food!
Thursday, May 29, 2014
Three for Three
My 7th grade orientation ended yesterday… and was a huge hit! In case you’ve forgotten, I started this my first summer here; my friend and I coordinated it together and facilitated the 1.5 day life skills camp for incoming freshmen at my school. Last year I trained a group of upperclassmen to facilitate the event, and had three of my Peace Corps friends monitor them during the camp, and help when necessary. This year I did extra trainings, and let the upperclassmen run the show! All I did was keep track of time, and answer a couple of the facilitators’ questions! This proved them that they are totally capable of doing this themselves from now on- I’ll be leaving in a few months and won’t be there in the future, so it’s nice to know that they’ll be able to carry it on for years to come J
As I sit here now, in my favorite café in Solano, the air conditioning circulating around the room, I’m feeling pretty good. Exhausted, but good. School starts next week, but I’m headed to Baguio soon, and then on to Pagudpud on Saturday. My friends and I are going to end the summer with a final beach trip. My summer was actually super busy; I didn’t really vacation at all, besides a few days hiking Mt. Pulag and then to Batad another time. The rest of the summer was filled with two Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camps- one at my friend’s site, and one at my site. 84 girls between the ages of 14 and 18 participated in three day camps geared towards girls’ empowerment and leadership. It’s one of my favorite parts of service now, and I’m going to do more GLOW activities at my site in the next couple months I have left. Lots of amazing memories, for sure we made a big impact on the campers. Definitely helped me realize some things about where I want my life to go after Peace Corps… so much to think about.
Anyways, I’m not feeling too loquatious today—I’m exhausted and a little brain dead from everything. Also I’m pretty sure I’m 90% burned out from service here. Don’t get me wrong; I love Peace Corps and my service and everything, but as the three year mark approaches (1 month from now), I’m just tiiiiired. I have a couple other things on my plate for the next 4 months, so at least I’ll be busy with work, per usual. However once September comes, I’ll be relieved to close my service. I’m ready to move on to the next chapter of my life. But for now, I’ll hang on to that last 10% I have, and make the best of it. I’ll soak up every bit of the Philippines, because I bet I’ll miss it once I’m gone. Nevertheless it will be great to be home, back with family, back to normalcy. I miss it. I need it. My soul power J
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
I think it's fly when girls stop by for the summer... for the summer
...And some of my PCV girls will be stopping by soon! (But I'll get to that later)
As I sit here in my apartment, I look around the room and it’s a HOT MESS! My kitchen table is littered with the following:
1. tomatoes (I’m waiting for them to ripen)
2. candle (almost fully melted from the brownouts)
3. food (I haven’t unpacked from my hike up Mt. Pulag)
4. care package fun (which I haven’t found where to store)
5. paperwork (which needs to be organized to close my library grant)
6. variety of knick knacks (I haven’t put away yet from my recent travels)
7. mish mosh of supplies (for my upcoming girls’ empowerment camp)
8. a zillion papers (last minute logistics for the camp)
Actually, I’m probably being hard on myself… it’s not that bad. Just disorganized. However, behind me, my laundry basket is HEAPING as I haven’t done laundry in weeks. Also, the floor is unspeakably dirty. Haven’t mopped in months. Hashtag Peace Corps problems. My recycling piles are insane. Mostly because I can’t bear the thought of NOT recycling paper… but it doesn’t exist here. I don’t know why I still keep a box of paper recyclables; we simply don’t have a paper recycling program here. Force of habit, I suppose. But it’s ridiculous. I’d post a picture, but I’m kind of ashamed of it. Hahaha!
Anyways this is my summer vacation. #1 shocking thing: so far there has only been one day when I thought my skin was going to melt off of my body. The past two summers, it was basically every day. Lots of days I would lie on my concrete floor crying because I couldn’t handle it. Seriously. I’d take 3-4 baths a day, but the water I pumped from the ground was even hot, so there wasn’t great relief in being drenched. I’m sort of waiting for this to happen, but so far I’ve been pretty lucky (knock on wood)--- today I’m wearing capris and a t-shirt that’s not very breathable. And I’m totally comfortable. Winninggggg! It makes me think… reports from home are that this winter was the coldest one in YEARS. So maybe it’s the same here, although winter here was what we in Massachusetts would consider May-June weather. Climate change is an interesting thing.
This has been a pretty great summer so far; started off with our town fiesta, which I judged the parade and went to the “Battle of the Bands” and beauty pageant. Then it was my landlady’s daughter’s college graduation, so that was cool. Then I spent a few days in Manila, finishing my remedial reading manual, which is a project I began in November 2011. WHOAAAA. Right? Well, the main part of the curriculum is done; I just have part of the appendix to finish. I’ll get a chance to do that in June. Then… I don’t even know how I’ll celebrate. If I was a drinker, I’d probably go out and get smashed. However, I’m guessing , realistically, MY celebration is going to involve sitting in my apartment with a lot of chocolate and diet cokes and watching Modern Family. So I’m hoarding as much chocolate and candy from my care packages as I can. My life is sooo exciting. LOL J
Anyways, after making awesome progress on my reading project, I took a trip down to Benguet to hike Mt. Pulag with a group of my friends. It’s the highest peak in Luzon, second highest in the country (to Mt. Apo in Mindanao). You begin the hike in the morning or afternoon, set up camp for the night, then wake up at 3am to begin the final leg of the hike to the summit to see the sunrise. I did the same hike two years ago, but there’s really nothing like it. It was just as good the second time around. You’re above all the clouds, and they look like an ocean. Some of the smaller mountains surrounding Pulag peek out from the clouds, and they look like islands, surrounded by water. It’s wild.
From Pulag, my friend and I made our way through Baguio and left at 9:30am Saturday to take a 7 hour bus to Manila… walked right to the next bus station to reserve our seats. Grabbed a bite to eat and went right back to the station, sat in our seats, and within 20 minutes we departed Manila to begin the 12 (!) hour trek to Legazpi City, Bicol, where she lives. We arrived at 6:30am on Easter Sunday, traveled back to her apartment, and passed out on the couches for several hours. No egg hunts or sugar rushes for us. The 21 hours of travel didn’t really put us in the mood. Instead we settled for a day of TV and movies. The following two days were spent preparing for our Girls Leading Our World (GLOW) camp. We were gathering materials, taking care of final logistics, and making sure everything was ready to go. Then bright and early on Wednesday we made our way to the venue, a local elementary school.
We began with a half-day training of trainers, in which all of the Peace Corps Volunteers and local facilitators got together to meet and start preparing their sessions. That evening, the girls arrived. (I’ll talk more about the camp itself in my next post, as I have MINE coming up next week!) The next three days were filled with big laughs, new friendships, and lots of learning. It was SO awesome. Definitely one of my favorite Peace Corps experiences. And after almost three years of being here and doing all sorts of amazing things, that’s saying a lot! It was so cool to see the transformation of the girls in only a few days; definitely something really special.
After the camp ended, my friend and I went and got some celebratory halo-halo (one of my fave desserts in the Philippines), then, exhausted beyond belief, we dragged ourselves back to her place. I packed up all my stuff, including a massive cardboard box filled with unused materials, a gigantic rice sack filled with t-shirts for the campers, and my two backpacks I brought already. Thank goodness for helpful Filipinos; before I knew it I was on a bus headed back to Manila, all of my luggage safely stored underneath. 13 (ugh) hours later, I arrived in the city, grabbed a taxi, and headed to the Peace Corps office. Thank GOODNESS for the PC office. It’s open 24/7, even on a lot of holidays. So I just went there and hung out in the library all day. Ran some errands at the mall and around the city, getting more supplies for my camp (very proud of myself, took jeepneys everywhere, not expensive taxis!), then just soaked up the fast internet at the office. That night, got on yet ANOTHER bus and finally arrived back at site two days ago. Since then I’ve been working on finalizing logistics for my camp, which starts a week from today! Eek! I still have a lot on my to-do list, but I know it’ll get done. I always do, somehow.
The camp will be the same one from Legazpi; my friend and I have been organizing it since September, believe it or not. We wrote a grant and received funding from USAID, which is awesome. Also we reached out to friends and family back home, who have been SO supportive and wonderful. We wouldn’t have been able to put these events on without you! Anyways, I’ll talk more about this next time. For now, I’m off to meet with several people and put some checks on my to-do list. Adios, amigos!