Monday, March 12, 2012

Welcome to Manila Where the Playas Play...

And they steal all your stuff like, every day.  Learned that the hard way.  This past week we had a Peace Corps training for Project Design and Management, teaching us and our counterparts how to best plan a project at site.  We learned how to identify our needs and assets, as well as how to determine realistic timelines and specifics of our projects.  The workshop ended with sessions about proposal and grant writing.  Going through it all, step-by-step, was super helpful because it cleared up a lot of things with my counterpart.  There’s this belief (across the board with all PCVs’ host agencies) that we’re coming here to just hand out cash.  The PDM training was awesome because it showed our counterparts that it will take months to go through the planning process and receive the funds we need to complete what we’re hoping to do.  It was a good lesson on patience, and I feel a lot less pressure than I did before to save the world.

I also feel like I got a lot closer to my counterpart, too.  We were talking a lot, she filled me in on a lot of the things that happen at school (which I had NO idea about!), and we brainstormed a lot.  It was really awesome.  None of the teachers choose to speak English in the teacher’s lounge ever, so basically all day I sit there, working, hearing Ilokano or Tiwali (the Ifugao dialect), having no idea what’s being said.  It’s not that I feel lonely when it happens so much as I just know that I’m soooo out of the loop.  My counterpart was really surprised when I didn’t know about the school stuff she was talking about.  I’m certainly getting better with my listening skills though, picking up more words, but not enough to know what’s going on.  Anyways it’s become normal so it doesn’t bother me anymore, but it definitely hurt my feelings for a long time at first because I took it personally.  However after a while (as in, months at site) it kind of hit me that if some foreigner came to my school in the US, would I start speaking their language during general open-room conversation?  I doubt it.  That sounds harsh, but let’s be realistic.  It’s so much easier to just lean back on the language that you can express yourself completely in, as opposed to settling with vocabulary that has the general meaning.

Two of my friends at our PDM workshop had a related experience to this.  One of their counterparts speaks very little English, and the other’s counterpart is deaf.  Sitting at the same table, each of these volunteers were asking each other, “What’s a word similar to ‘sustainable’?” or  “How can I sign ‘empowerment’?”  I think, as Americans, we tend to have a slight elitist attitude that English is THE language.  And certainly, in today’s modern world, it is considered the universal language.  However I find myself still frustrated when my coworkers don’t use it around me.  But who am I to think that?  If they want to speak together in their own dialect, why should I get offended?  And that’s what took me a while to finally understand and accept.  It also brings up the importance of me improving my language skills.  Living in the Philippines as a PCV, you’re definitely spoiled when it comes to language because it IS widely spoken, and almost everyone can understand very basic English.  Where is… How much is… and so on.  Last month I met a former PCV who served in Bulgaria 2008-2010, and she spoke fluently and beautifully when I asked her for a sample.  She said there was no way to get around anywhere without being fluent.  You wouldn’t be able to communicate at all with most Bulgarians.  So as much as I desire to become fluent in Ilokano, it is so easy to just get by at my current elementary level because you can always lean back on English.  Anyways I’m REALLY digressing here.  Where was I?

Oh okay so we had our training.  On the way to the site my friends and I got in a cab from our Pension hotel to travel to the bus stop.  We had a ton of luggage so the driver helped us put it all in the trunk.  We drove only a kilometer or so down the road, and he rushed around to the back to get our bags out for us.  The bus was approaching, so we quickly paid him and hopped on the bus.  Twenty minutes later, I looked down at my bags and realized… Where is my laptop?  Dun dun duhhhhh.  Gone.  The driver had rushed to get our bags because he saw my laptop sticking out and he must have swiped it and put it right back into the trunk before we could see.  Yup.  I’ve never had ANYTHING valuable stolen from me, so I think a 24 year track record is pretty decent.  But I wasn’t paying enough attention just one time, and that’s what happens.  Oh well.  I had just backed up everything on my external hard drive a few days earlier, so I actually didn’t lose anything but the laptop itself.  So that’s what really matters.  On top of that, I had it insured, so although it’s a big pain in the bum, it’s not the end of the world.  I got the plate numbers from the guards at our hotel, reported them to our Peace Corps security officer, and we are now working on the insurance claims.  So it’s all good.  Little setback, but just a reminder for me not to let my guard down, even though I’ve been here for so long and feel comfortable.  Granted this was in hectic Manila and not my Filipino hamlet, Lamut J

I’ll tell y’all about my project we developed when it starts coming along more.  But I will tell you that it’s crazy awesome and I’m so excited to do it.  As an update, we held our International Creative Writing Contest two weeks ago and it was so great!  I got to read through all of the submissions and they were super fun and creative.  I’m really looking forward to expand on this initiative next school year.  One of my favorite answers was to the question “Other than monkeys, what kind of animals are like humans and why?”  This student’s answer began with:

Dogs are like humans because they are always urinating everywhere.  They urinate in the street, they urinate on buildings, and they urinate in houses…

I gave this entry second place. 

‘Aint it the truth, though!  There’s no law about public exposure in the Philippines, and you’ll learn that five minutes after you step off the airplane and see men (and women) peeing in the street.  I laughed out loud in the very silent internet café as I read that first sentence.  So good.  I need to give him a handshake.  THAT is the kind of creativity I want to see from students.  Shocking!  So unique that you don’t want to look away; you don’t want it to end!  Creativity isn’t valued here like I believe it should be.  Conformity is the standard.  Individual thought isn’t encouraged.  When you ask a student for their answer in class, they’ll stand up with their notebook in hand, and read you the definition verbatim, or even the author’s opinion word-for-word.  It’s exhausting and uninspiring.  So when I see teachers who are VERY unenthused to teach, it’s no surprise.  But that’s something that I hope to make a difference in.  I have a huge creativity initiative I’ve been working on with a fellow PCV that will hopefully take place late in the coming school year.  It will take a lot to materialize, but it’s something I’ve become super passionate about, and I think it’s just really important.  We shall see what becomes of it all.

I’m sitting here, trying to download stupid antivirus software, but there are ten, yes ten, little boys playing online games taking up ALL my internet speed.  Arggggggg!  Per usual.  I have been at 2 hours remaining for an hour now.  I need to open some documents on my external hard drive, but I don’t want to plug it into my computer until I’ve downloaded antivirus software, because I believe I have a virus on it and don’t want to ruin my day-old laptop.  Unfortunately I don’t have much to do offline today, so once I finish this blog I’ll just be sitting here.  Oh well.  Another lesson on patience.

I have a crazy busy few months ahead of me, so I’ll do my best to keep y’all posted.  Hope everything is going swimmingly as your spring months approach!


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