Thursday, July 7, 2011

You Can Stop Holding Your Breath, Mom, I'm Here :)

Phew! I made it! So yes, I know it’s been a whole week and you’ve been waiting in breathless anticipation for this oh-so-exciting blog post. (Once I start speaking Ilokano I don’t know if my sarcasm will translate, so bear with me if I overuse it here). It seems like I’ve been gone for sooo long because so much has happened this past week! I’ll do my best to condense it and not bore y’all to tears.

So Friday I had my lovely flight from Boston to LA… 6 and ½ hours wasn’t actually that bad because the whole time I was like “whatamidoingggggg?” Just crazy butterflies. Basically take every SAT, my driver’s test, and every dive meet—put them all together and that’s what I was feeling. Get to sunny LAX, and go out to the hotel shuttles. Someone taps me on the shoulder and asks if this was the Radisson bus stop. I turn around and it’s a guy holding the same Peace Corps paper I was! My first PC friend! So we got on the bus, and met another PC girl, and 5 minutes later we got to the hotel and there was a whole smorgasbord of PCT’s (Trainees—yep that’s us)!

Friday was crazy full of registration/pre-training training, ice breakers and whatnot. There are 59 of us in our “Batch # 270.” The number is based on how many groups have gone to a country. Therefore, we are the 270th batch of PCV’s (Volunteers) to go to the Philippines. Pretty crazy. The Peace Corps was founded in 1961, and the Philippines was the second country where volunteers were sent. So far there have been more than 200,000 PCV’s worldwide, 8,000 of which have been in the Philippines. I guess you could say we’re in good company!
Saturday we had our flight from LAX to Tokyo. We left at 12:40pm PST and arrived in Tokyo 4:50pm. I just read that first post on Jeff’s blog and it seems we did the same thing: we chased the sun, so our entire flight was full sunlight. Everyone on the plane just kept the windows closed because 12 hours of full sunlight would have been no fun for anyone! Our flight was so sweet though; all of our seats were booked together in the back of the plane—kind of felt like the cool 5th graders in the back of the bus. We spent the whole time playing cards or airplane games (aka car games, but plane version. It made “I spy” a little more difficult to play though), and just talking to everyone. The seatbelt sign was off for most of the flight so we were all just walking around to each other and hanging out… it was totally fun.

In Tokyo we had a short layover and then a 4 hour flight to Manila, landing close to 10pm. Walking off the ramp from the plane we were greeted by 8 or so Filipinos saying “Welcome to the Philippines!” with big smiles! Normally, “tired Becky” (and you KNOW what tired Becky is like) would be having NOTHING of such chipper behavior. But this was so awesome! They were just so genuine, and it was exactly what I needed after so much cabin fever.
By the time we got all of our bags together and on buses, we left Manila at 11 and took (legitimately) fancy coach buses to the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction in Silang, Cavite, about 90 minutes south of Manila. The IIRR seems to be a compound of some sort, or a campground or something, I’m not totally sure, but they’ve been spoiling us rotten! I had pictured straw huts with mosquito netting right away, but we each share a room with one other PCT, 2 desks, closets, beds with sheets, pillows and all, a full bath, and, duh duh duh DAAAAA! AIR CONDITIONING! Victory is mine.

The people here could not be more accommodating! They put AC’s in every room 2 days before we came. And we’re taking up 40ish rooms, including all of the other Peace Corps people staying here. In addition, they also installed wi-fi right before we came! I can tell you one thing, you’d be hard pressed to find an American establishment that would go that far out of their way just for one group of people. These Filipinos we have met here are some exceptional people. Whenever you pass by, they’re always smiling and saying “Hello!” I haven’t yet had one pretend not to see me as we cross paths. They’re very cordial. Much appreciated! And the cafeteria food is so cute. They’ve definitely been making a big effort at providing at least one familiar dish at every meal. They will always have traditional Filipino dishes, but for example the other night there was also mac & cheese, another time there was chili con carne (with nachos mixed in… interesting), etcetera. So I think this has all been a big effort on their part to help us make a gradual transition into their culture.

The one non-gradual thing for me has been technology! So obviously the second I turn on my computer here the first night the battery dies. So whatever, I go to plug it into the wall. Nope. My plug has three prongs, and the outlet only takes two. Great. So I used my roommate Gina’s computer to put up a quick Facebook status, saying I was here. I attempted email but the internet was like, “Oh Becky, that’s funny. You think you’re going to get enough connection out of me when everyone else is doing the same? Sorry!” I talked to one of the computer nerds the next day and he said that the amount of bandwith (????) was equivalent to about half that of dial-up internet. I KNOW HOW YOU FEEL, GRANDPA KEYS!!! So anyways that was Sunday night that my computer died and I was going to take the jeepney (ßGoogle image that word) to the mall Tuesday but I passed outttt after training and didn’t make it. Therefore I finally made it to the mall tonight (Thursday) and bought an adapter for the plug, hence I am FINALLY getting a chance to blog!

My fellow Trainees are fantastic! It’s a total mixed bag too, which is really cool. We have two RPCV’s (Returned PCV’s) in our group, one man Rich who taught in Africa back in the ‘60s, and another woman Regina who was also in Africa. I’d say the majority of our group is mid-20s, but there are a few in their 30s, maybe some 40s, a whole bunch in their 50s and a group of 60+. And the whole US demographic too, which I think is especially cool because countries worldwide think being American means blonde hair and blue eyes. Granted I don’t much help this stereotype, but there are plenty of others in our group that do. From what current PCV’s have told us, Filipinos seem to have some difficulty believing that we DO come from such a melting pot (Can you blame them?), so apparently it can be a challenge for some of the non-cookie cutters to be thought of as “American” by their communities. I hope to be able to teach diversity in some way when I have the opportunity to do so. For me, I feel that our diversity is one of the coolest things about being an American. It makes our country special from others. I’ve been having a lot of uber patriotic thoughts this past week, which I’m sure I’ll share at some point, but I’m just trying to condense things here for a moment.

Anyways, yesterday we found out where our training sites will be! We’re here until July 17th, then we go to our training sites until September 20th, when we are “sworn in” as PCV’s (no longer Trainees)—and THEN we go to our permanent work sites. But knowing our training site gives us a basic idea of where we’ll be for the duration of our service. So Dad, open up another Tab because I’m sure you’re going to start Googling and Wiki-ing: La Trinidad, in the province of Benguet. Our training and orientation will be at Benguet National High School, and we’ve already started learning Ilokano, which is the regional dialect.

Yes, I was a bit hesitant at first about this news because Benguet is the “mountainous” region that I didn’t want. BUT I am so totally stoked now. Benguet is nicknamed “the salad bowl of the Philippines” because the majority of the country’s fruits and vegetables are produced there, and I LOOOOOVE my fruit! (Juiciest mango of my LIFE at dinner last night. Melted into gooey deliciousness. Amen.) Also, the PCVs from that region told us it doesn’t ever go below 40 and usually not over 80. So when I think of it that way, that’s basically Scituate from April to August. And I’m loving that, especially since dress code is looking like it’s going to be pants all the time no matter where I am. Apparently our ankles are just so attractive we’ll have to put them away. Here at our secluded compound it’s okay to wear shorts though. I guess the PCV girls say that we’ll just have to gauge what it’s like at our specific work community, because apparently it can differ a lot depending on where you are.

But yes, so BENGUET! (beng-ET) has a ton of hiking trails and apparently the Guinness World Record for biggest strawberry cake, made at one of their strawberry festivals! We could be placed at a number of places in the province too, it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll be mountain men. We could even be near the water. Either way it’s going to be beautiful and I’m so excited!
Oh my goodness look at the time. I have really funny stories about my mall trip tonight. Maybe I’ll get a chance to write it tomorrow, but until then…

Agannad ka! (You take care!)


At July 8, 2011 at 12:37 AM , Blogger Maureen said...

Happiness runs over for you, so says Tessa and Lucy.

At July 9, 2011 at 1:44 PM , Blogger Cal Brokamp said...

My excitement and amazement is too much to express right now! I love that this blog feels like a field trip into your mind! Please please please don't stop letting all of us know your thought and experience.

I miss you so much but feel so close to you reading this.

Chester bought a pool today, he wishes Tess could give him more swimming lessons. Motor boat motor boat....


At July 9, 2011 at 11:21 PM , Blogger Patti Dente said...

Becky wow thanks for a fantastic update on your adventures ....yup I am with you on the strawberry short cake and mangos yum

At July 10, 2011 at 10:36 PM , Anonymous lisa Keys said...

Whew-your aunt Lisa can breathe easier, too. So glad that you are a proud American and so open to taking it all in. You are definitely chasing wildebeests!

Aunt Lisa


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