Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Do You Like Fat?"

Whoa!  Where did November go?!  Many apologies for being MIA… I didn’t realize how long it had been until my mother told me she had been waiting in breathless anticipation for my next literary masterpiece of a blog post.  I guess I’ll give a summary of what I’ve been up to for the past month… My first instinct is to say it’ll be short, but c’mon, who am I kidding?  By now, both you and I know perfectly well that I get excessively loquacious with these entries every time.  So sit back.  This could get out of control.

“Life is pure adventure, and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we will be able to treat life as art: to bring all our energies to each encounter, to remain flexible enough to notice and admit when what we expected to happen did not happen.  We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed.”  -Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now

I think this quote encompasses much of what happened during November.  It began the day after my last post, October 30th.  We had a long weekend in honor of All Saint’s/All Soul’s Day, and a lot of people were spending it doing fun things in their towns because this is one of the biggest religious holidays of the year.  Unfortunately nothing was going on in Lamut, but I was glad to have a bit of a break.  That day I was texting a friend of mine and she was up in Mountain Province visiting another PCV from our batch that lived up there.  “Why don’t you come up?”  I was snuggled on the couch in my pj’s, it was raining out… but I said to myself, Chase Wildebeests!  So I packed up my bag, hopped on a jeep, and made my way up there.  The journey there is a multi-step process, however, and I was completely winging it.  Jeep to Lagawe, another to Banaue, then asked, in half English/half Ilokano where the jeep to Bontoc leaves from… “Oh ma’am, they stop running at 11am.”  At this point it was 4pm.  Uhhhhh…. So I proceeded to walk in and out of stores around town, up to the bus drop off terminal, everywhere asking other people, all with the same answer.  Meanwhile I was too lazy to put my sweatshirt on, and the climate change from warm Lamut was about a 20 degree drop all the way up in those mountains.  But I was on a mission, DETERMINED to get up there.  I didn’t come this far (2.5 hours at this point) to run out of luck!  After an unsuccessful hour and umpteen texts to different PCVs, including my friend from last year’s batch, who I have dubbed my Saint Christopher, for her continual support throughout my travels around Luzon… this girl knows her stuff when it comes to bus routes/ how to get here-from-there… I accepted defeat.  Luckily, however, one of our volunteers lives only 30 minutes south of Banaue.  So although it was in the opposite direction, she took me in for the night and I caught the last southbound bus of the day (luckily!) to crash at her place.  Early the next morning I picked up a bus headed back north, then switched to a jeep, which was another 2ish hours to Bontoc, and then found a van headed to my friend’s little town an hour away, which I crossed my fingers was actually the right one… wasn’t even sure where exactly to get off.  My friend told me a very vague landmark, because unfortunately there’s nothing much up there to know where to get off.  Turns off I got off too early, so then I had to walk 15 minutes down the highway (which is barely the equivalent of 3A, for you South Shore-ers).  But I made it!  I was pretty proud of my solo travel up there to have ended in success!  A little hiccup, but no biggie.  We spent the day venturing up to Sagada with her counterpart’s family, had a late lunch at an awesome restaurant, where we sat out on the terrace and people-watched, then the evening we went to a little kiddies’ costume party.  Yeah we’re THAT cool.  But whatever, don’t judge us.  It was cute.  Then we stayed in her CP’s sister’s house (I swear, EVERY Filipino opens doors for others here…), made a fort out of blankets and chairs (HECK YEAH!), and watched movies.

Got back to Lamut the next evening, unpacked, and rested all day Tuesday.  Had to get up my energy for what was next… Peace Corps 50th Anniversary celebration in Manila!!!  Our crew in Ifugao and several from the nearby provinces were invited to perform another native dance (I guess we were just THAT good at swearing in), so the whole trip was compensated… Bonus!  Wednesday we were going to leave at 5pm, and none of us had school still, so we were ready to go!  5:00 came and went, and no van.  Hmmm… texts back and forth first informed us the van people didn’t have “papers” of some sort, so we just sat around together for a while… texts continued, then the issue was the driver didn’t have his papers (who knows?), then it was finally cleared up around 8pm and they picked us up around 8:15.  So again, more flexibility and patience!  We arrived in Manila around 4am after some very heavy traffic through the mountains (no joke, ironic, right?).  In the morning we were lucky enough to have been invited to a small meet-and-greet with the Peace Corps President, Aaron Williams!  There were only 20 or so of us there, a mix of our batch 270, 269, and 268’ers who were about to finish their two years of service.  It was amazing.  Mr. Williams asked us to go around the room and each introduce ourselves and talk for a few minutes about our site and projects.  It was so incredibly powerful and inspiring to hear what the PCVs from the other two batches have been doing here.  From talking to others in my batch, I have found that many of us are experiencing similar frustrations and adjustment issues at our sites, but listening to all of the great things the seasoned volunteers were saying was totally reassuring and I left the room with a smile on my face and one of those warm, fuzzy feelings inside. 

We went and checked into our hotel, where we met up with even more PCVs, and were able to chat and catch up, meet some new friends, and such.  It was pretty great.  That night we went to a bit of a schmoozing event, Peace Corps and USAID were both celebrating their 50th anniversary of being in the Philippines.  A whole bunch of people spoke, there was awesome food, and then a few hours of standing around talking with random people.  Mr. Williams was there again, and I got to speak to him one-on-one for a few minutes, which was totally cool.  He’s a great guy, seems very fair and balanced, open-minded, is a RPCV (Returned PCV) from Puerto Rico (I think?  Somewhere in Central America, if I’m remembering correctly… I’m sure you could google it), and super friendly.  He talked to all of us that came up to us, and was actually listening, giving good advice and feedback.  I also met the president of Books for Asia, one of the organizations I will likely be seeking donations from in the future, if I end up doing a secondary project with our library or reading program I’ve been developing this past month.  Anyways it was a pretty awesome networking opportunity for all of us, and by the end of the night we were feeling pretty good.  What a day!

Friday we woke up early and made our way to the Mall of Asia to rehearse our dance for that night’s performance.  Things were super crazy, everyone getting ready for the 10am start.  The whole day was awesome.  A TON of PCVs from our batch made the trip for a mini-reunion, and it was so nice to get to see them all.  Lots of exciting stories of being new at site, lots of laughing, lots of bragging from certain people… to be expected though, haha!  We spent the day watching the events going on, walking around the mall a bit, but mostly hanging around with each other, catching up.  That night we did our dance, which was, of course, awesome (of course!), and totally fun!  It was us and a group of students from Ifugao State University, who taught us the dance.  They were a fun bunch.

The next week there was no school Monday (some other holiday… who knows…), and then I only had to wait a few days more before my friend came up north to visit from Zambales!  After school Friday we went up to Banaue with no real plan of what we were going to do.  The next morning we decided to contract a jeep with three tourists from Germany and two from Finland to bring us an hour north… where we began our two-ish hour hike to Batad.  It’s a mini town tucked away in the mountains.  You can’t get there by car, so although plenty of tourists go there, it’s not a touristy town by any means.  I think probably because you really have to put some effort into getting there!  It’s super quiet and intimate, just so beautiful and… ahhh I can’t say enough about Batad.  It’s my new favorite place in the Philippines.  We got a room that overlooked the terraces (yup!) in this little 8 room family-run hostel, had lunch, and decided we wanted to hike to Cambula, another tiny town even farther from civilization.  The Lonely Planet book said the best way to do it is to hire a local guide to take you there, and am I glad we did that!  While we ate lunch, we asked the daughter, who was serving us, if she knew anyone.  She walked ten feet away, said something to a man sitting at a table, and came back to tell us that her father, Norton, would take us there.  Hahaha!  That was easy!  Grabbed our water bottles, and headed out for what would end up being a five hour hike up, down, and around the mountains and terraces, through families’ backyards, and even at one point made it to a beautiful waterfall, where we were able to go swimming!  Our timing was just right, because the sun set over the mountains just 15 minutes before we arrived back at the hostel.  Calling it a hostel doesn’t do this place justice.  It was more of a wood cabin built into the side of the mountain.  No bells or whistles, just very simple, but gelled with the whole setting around us.  Loved it.  Talking about it now makes me want to go back… Anyways after seven hours of hiking, we passed out.

Sunday we headed out with Norton again to take a different route home.  It was a 2ish hour beautiful hike to the road, and from there we decided to continue walking in the direction back instead of just waiting for a jeep to drive by and pick us up.  Finally one came by and I hurriedly asked the driver, in butchered Ilokano, how much it would be to get back.  My friend and I, not planning very well, had realized that morning that we had a VERY limited amount of cash left… VERY little.  We had to bargain with Norton for how much we could pay him to bring us that morning.  By the time the jeep picked us up, we had a total of 210 pesos.  The fare was 100 each.  Eek!  We were REEEEEALLY banking on there being an ATM in Banaue.  Otherwise we had no way of returning home.  Hahahaha!  So again, I had to remind myself that “we are created creative,” and told myself that there MUST be an ATM there.  It’s a huge tourist town!  Formerly one of UNESCO’s wonders of the world!  Paid our fare, and got off.  Stopped by the tourist center, where the very fluent English-speaker assured us that there was no ATM in town.  “The closest one is in Lagawe.”  Well, lady, I know that.  That’s where I’m going!  Hahaha of course.  My friend and I looked at each other and kind of nervously laughed.  Okay there HAS to be a solution.  Luckily our other PCV friend had a conference up there the day before, and I was like, okay let’s cross our fingers because mayyyybe she’s still there.  We walked over, and although she had left already, her friendly counterpart was there.  We started talking and I casually threw in there that the two of us were trying to figure out a way home because we had no money (haha niiiiice Becky).  And of course, with her Filipina generosity, she handed us a 100 peso bill and told us to just pay her back when we were able to get cash out.  Ahhhhh!  EXHALE!  Exhausted from ten hours of hiking in a 24-hour period and a near disaster, we decided to get on a jeep right then and go back to Lagawe, where we were staying at our friend’s host family’s bed&breakfast.  Paid the fare (whoo hoo!), got some lunch, and slept the afternoon away.  It was a pretty awesome weekend.

So let’s see that’s another go with the flow story of November… what else.

Back at school the next day I continued working on our school paper.  This thing, in comparison to the esteemed SHS Scituation, was… I’ll just say, a bit disorganized.  We had to send it in by Wednesday.  This was Monday and it was nowhere NEAR completion.  The week before I had been working steadily on it, as our main issue being nobody having sent in articles.  Monday came around and finally we had our submissions.  Cuuuuue madwoman-ness.  Those three days were made up of me sitting at my desk on my laptop from 7:30-5:00.  Sometimes it was driving me NUTS, because I have zero experience with layout design so I was totally winging it (once again) and we don’t have any special computer software for this kind of a project… I had just opened it on MS Publisher and everything had been going smoothly.  I’m guessing this is TOTALLY not how you actually do layout, and I’m sure my journalism friends are reading this in horror… but the average high school in the Philippines isn’t equipped like the Times or the WSJ.  I was working with what I had.  But for those of you who know me well, you won’t be surprised to hear that my obsessive compulsiveness towards neatness and aesthetic pleasure resulted in a pretty darn good-looking paper!  Mom, I’ll have to send you a copy of last and this year’s paper.  Haven’t seen it in print yet, but I’m excited.

Another thing that it made me really excited about is that I want to work a bit on their journalism program next school year.  It doesn’t really exist.  There’s no class, which I probably won’t be able to change, but I want to hold a few writing workshops and such.  Some of my fellow PCVs have experience with different fields of art study, which would be great for photography, illustration, layout, etc.  Also some others could help talk about the different types of news writing.  I think it would be an awesome project we could collaborate on.  I have some more ideas up my sleeve here, but I don’t want to get too ahead of myself.  I’m trying not to give you a novel to read here.  But I’d love any input!

The following week was Thanksgiving week… I’d say that I missed the days off, but there have been too many holidays to count here.  Strangely enough, I feel like we need more school.  Can you believe that?  If you saw the way things worked around here, I’m sure you’d agree.  It’s a long story.  Many stories, actually.  And I’m sure I’ll get to them some day.  Anyways I had no plans for the big day, but that morning I sent and received dozens of texts from my fellow PCVs saying “Happy Thanksgiving!”  Talking about what foods we’d miss the most (mashed potatoes and gravy for me… although it’s a really tough choice), and traditions we were missing out on, as well.  On my trike ride to school, I explained the holiday to my host mom.  She had heard of Thanksgiving, but didn’t know the whole story behind it and whatnot.  So I felt happy that I could do that.  Being in this country for five months now, I’ve found that it’s one rich with its unique culture.  And I’ve loved it.  But one thing that it’s kind of gotten me down on is feeling like we have no united culture in the States, except that being that we AREN’T united.  Which is ironic, considering our name.  I love our salad bowl of different people and backgrounds, and that’s definitely what makes us unique.  But Filipinos will always ask what our cultural dances are, or what our traditional foods are.  And I can never come up with an answer.  Booty-shaking in clubs?  I wasn’t going to demonstrate that to our Mayor when HE asked me.  I guess I’ve kind of been in a little slump when it comes to that.  Although I think I’ve already mentioned this in my blog before, it still gets to me.  However when I was explaining Thanksgiving to her, and later that day when I was telling other people about it too, I felt pretty darn special, and like we do have a national identity.  That evening my friend, my Saint Christopher I was talking about earlier, invited me over for some side dishes her mom sent her from the States!  She made cranberry sauce from scratch, green bean casserole, and stuffing.  YESSSSS!  And we were going to just share it with her neighbors, but her neighbors happened to have three friends traveling through town who had stopped to hang out… so we got to share our holiday with them too!  It was a total Peace Corps moment.  One of the three goals is to promote a better understanding of American culture on Filipinos.  Check!  I spent a few hours over there, and left feeling pretty great.  Ended the day with a phone call from home… nothing beats that!  Awesome awesome.  It was definitely a good Thanksgiving.  I’ve got a LOT to be thankful for.

Okay I’ve almost made it up to today.  Final stretch. 

That Saturday I decided to head to Dupax Norte, Nueva Viscaya to see a big community celebration, in which two of my PCV friends were being “adopted” into the municipality.  It was a big deal.  Hours and hours of cultural dancing, stood in front of a big as it was slaughtered.  Yikes.  Danced around the blood on the ground, and did EVERYTHING I could not to step on it.  “Drank” rice wine, which to me, basically means tilting the cup to my lips and putting it back down.  I’m sorry, but that stuff is horrendous.  Tastes soooo bad.  It’s made out of rice (obviously), which therefore means it’s full of chunks of rice.  It’s a mix of regular grains, but then some have disintegrated some so they’re clumpy, others are gritty, and it looks more like a thick raspberry vinaigrette dressing, but with floaties everywhere.  I don’t know any PCVs that like it; plenty of Filipinos like it but man… it is just not my thing.  Anyways as you’re dancing around they keep offering it and you HAVE to take a sip, so every time you make a full rotation around the circle you’re dreading that wooden bowl of rice wine (…which is also worse because it’s like at church when everyone drinks out of the same chalice.  I’m going to dip my body of Christ, thank you very much.  Ahhhh cultural adjustment!).  Anyways it was a really awesome celebration, and cool to find out that their site is only two hours away from mine. 

The following Monday was a bit slow at work, but my counterpart came in and told me that the next day through the following week I’d be coaching swimmers for the provincial meet instead of going to school.  Sounds good to me!  The provincial meet is held between all of the municipalities in each province, and the winners there go to compete at the regional meet in February, which is a whole bunch of provinces together, then those winners go to nationals in February or March.  It’s a huge deal.  Huge.  Basically two and a half weeks of lost classroom time.  The athletes practice during school hours (we leave school at 8 am and return at 4pm), and since my school is so small, most everyone is an athlete… In addition, a lot of the teachers are coaches, so they’re not even in school.  Therefore the students left in class are either left with an assignment or do nothing.  It’s not their fault though; it’s the whole system.  To me, it seems insane.  But I can’t judge.  I just have to observe and go with it.  Created creative.  So since last Tuesday I’ve been going down to Solano, where the nearest pool is, to coach!  None of the students are from my school, they are all from Lamut though.  What was interesting though, was that their English was muuuuch less developed than the students’ at my school.  However I really liked this, because it forced me to use my Ilokano, and I felt less self-conscious about it.  Since my Ilokano isn’t that great, and their English isn’t that great, I felt like we were on more of an even playing field.  And I didn’t feel like I was being judged or anything. 

It sounds silly, because I’m sure the locals appreciate when I do use Ilokano, but I am totally self-conscious about it and always revert to English because most everyone knows it anyways.  And at my school I always speak in English because it is, straight up, my assignment in Peace Corps.  Improve the English fluency.  When I’m not in class though, I do wish I could speak fluently with the students and teachers in Ilokano.  Because basically all day, every day, it’s me sitting at my desk in the teacher’s room in silence, while everyone only speaks Ilokano (or the local dialect) all day long.  I can’t understand any conversations, really.  A word or two here and there.  (At first I wondered why I didn’t know the vocabulary, but if you think about it, if you are having adult conversations throughout the day, a ton of words you use are outside of the basic words one would learn in the beginning of their language studies).  However this does mean that I’ve been incredibly productive, because people talking don’t distract me from what I’m doing!  But this past week of coaching I’ve felt more confident and have actually surprised myself with what I do know, and it has felt good.  Makes me feel smarter than I think I am.  So I’ve gotten a bit of a boost since the beginning of last week, and I’ve started back up with working more on my language independently.  Vide bimus…  We’ll see…

The coaching itself has been fun.  I got in the pool three of the days to demonstrate things, and other than butterfly (which I’m sure looked horrendous but they all seemed to like-haha!), it went really well.  I really enjoyed it; totally K of C all over again.  It was another one of those experiences that shows you human nature is the same everywhere in the world.  The little kids are attentive and do everything you ask; the older kids listen too but then complain that they are tired or don’t want to get in the pool.  Hahaha!  Just like at home, some are definitely just there for the social aspect (or the fact that they are missing two weeks of school to train—bizarre) while others are really there to improve and compete.  Some make you smile, others drive you up the wall!  But by the end of the first day, I was smiling because I realized this.  It was a nice observation.  Anyways the meet starts with opening ceremonies tomorrow, the 7th, with the events beginning Thursday.  These range from athletic events to chess!  Something for everybody!  It goes through Monday… I’ll have to give you a synopsis next week.  Pretty exciting.

I can’t move on until I tell you about one day that was particularly memorable.  For lunch there we just brought our own plates and spoons, and they brought a huge pot of rice and another pot of that day’s meal.  As I’ve discussed before, I’ve come upon some very strange and suspicious foods.  No biggie.  I can deal with it.  Anyways one day at practice, we broke for lunch and lined up to get our food.  I get my rice and the woman scooping food says “Do you like fat?” and before I could answer, plops two giant chunks of fat on top of my rice with one green bean.  Huh?  Each chunk was the size of two ping pong balls together.  I said thank you, and slowly walked away, eating my rice and green bean (singular—hahahahaha so funny!).  I very casually walked over to a wooded area, glanced around to make sure nobody was looking, and quickly flicked the chunks onto the ground.  A few minutes later I saw a dog (Mom- found out Filipino dogs are called Ascals; they are all mixed breeds.  All of them.  Fun fact: their international soccer team is the Philippine Ascals.  I love that they take pride in their stray street dogs!)  Later that day I went to get changed back into my clothes after swimming.  I was wondering why it smelled like urine in there, as there were no toilets, and then I heard a little girl walk into the stall next to mine… thennnnn heard a steady stream of pee on the tile floor.  I just raised my eyebrows and nodded my head.  Then laughed to myself.  Sounds about right!  I love this stuff.  Life is so funny here.  No wonder Filipinos are so happy all the time.  You just have to laugh.

Alright, last story, and last example of how we need to be flexible throughout our lives.  Sunday was the Million Volunteer Run across the Philippines… and as the name says, they were attempting to get one million volunteers to race in a whole bunch of cities around the country.  I signed up for the race in Lagawe.  It started at 7am, and it takes at least 45 minutes to get there.  But I figured since it was market day, things might be a little crazy, so I woke up at 4:45, got to the jeep stop at 5:45, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Found out that two buses go through town before 6am, realized I should have gotten on one of them, because I didn’t end up catching a jeep until 6:25.  Figures.  I was talking to a guy at the stop and he said there’s no time they actually start going, it’s just whenever they fill up.  Grrr.  Anyways we rolled into Lagawe at 7:15.  I wasn’t actually too concerned though, because when I ran a race in Baguio back in August, the race followed “Filipino time” and began an hour late.  However, not this one.  It started right on time and I missed it.  I was doing it with a friend and he waited for me, so unfortunately we both missed it.  No big deal though; we didn’t pay ahead of time or anything.  It would’ve been cool to run though.  Instead we went to a bakery across the street, sampled their cookies, and talked for a few hours.  It’s always nice to get together with an American and speak like a normal human being.  I’ve learned to speak with a Filipino-ish accent here, so when I’m out in public I can be understood.  I speak normally in school so they learn from me, but at the market or jeep or wherever, I turn my a’s into ahhhhs i’s into eees… so on and so forth.  So anyways that was too bad that we missed the race but oh well.  I learned a new fact about the bus schedule, which is definitely good to know for future northbound travel.  There are lots of bumps in the road here, but I think you just need to realize (metaphorically) that these roads aren’t paved and it’s not going to be a smooth, easy ride most places.  Just make sure you’ve gone to the bathroom, because the next CR isn’t for a while…

So that brings us to today.  I’ve been sitting on my bed, writing this for six hours straight, waiting for a call from the swim coach.  There’s a coaches’ meeting today, he didn’t know when, and said he would text me when it started, so I could come… I asked my counterpart if I should come into school (because she’s a coach too—gymnastics), and she said to just wait for him to text me, because she didn’t know when the meeting was either.  So I decided to spend the morning doing this instead.  Again, my apologies for my lack of posting.  I’ll get back to being good about it!  Hope all is well back in the States!  As always, thank you for your comments and emails!  As of a few weeks ago, this is the longest I’ve been away from home, so hearing from anyone Stateside gives me a boost when I need one or makes the good days even better!  As I’ve told my parents, I even like hearing about the mundane details of life.  Because of this, I think I’ve heard more about trips to the dump and dog walks than I ever have before, but I love those stories just as much as I would love hearing about some extravagant trip to the south of Spain or something… 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home