So three months, eh?
Well during the time when summer faded and the leaves fell, as you put
away your flip flops and took out your winter coat, a lot has happened here in
Lamut, Ifugao. I figure I’ll give a
brief overview and then ramble as usual.
September 1st – 2nd I had my
Intercollegiate Sexual Health Awareness Seminar. We trained 80 participants from 10 colleges
and two youth organizations about sexually transmitted infections, particularly
HIV/AIDS, as well as domestic abuse, substance abuse and risk behavior. The Philippines is one out of only seven
countries in the world that has an HIV infection rate increasing more than 25%
annually. HIV/AIDS is a huge problem in
this country, and I’m really glad I was able to organize this event with one of
my fellow PCVs and our counterparts.
September 11th – 14th I traveled to
Agoo, La Union to help a volunteer with a teacher training and youth leadership
camp. Then on the 19th I went
to my sitemate’s school (also in Ifugao) for another teacher training. The 22nd I gave a journalism
seminar at a different sitemate’s school.
The 23rd I traveled to Manila for a week-long planning of an
English Language Camp, named Tudlo Mindanao.
After a week of hard work, I went to see The Phantom of the Opera performed
in Manila with a friend of mine. It was
pretty incredible. It was my first time
to see an opera, and I’m so glad I went.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more in the future.
October 6th I went to a different school to give
the same journalism seminar as in September, per their request. I felt kind of special that I was
specifically asked for. That was
nice. Then the 11th – 13th
I traveled to Quirino State College, where another fellow volunteer teaches, to
speak at a journalism press conference.
Apparently my three years of majoring in journalism is paying off! A shout out and thank you to Sandy Marsters,
my most influential journalism professor!
Lamut, my town, held our district sports competition on the
19th & 20th, and I was our school’s girls’ basketball
coach! When they asked if I could do it,
I was like, “Well… I haven’t played since 8th grade… but okay I
guess!” Haha typical; they have way too
much faith in me. Anyways, I was
surprised at how much fun I had. And
only a few hours after it ended, I got on a bus, again to Manila!
My Peace Corps batch had our Mid-Service Training (MST)
October 22nd – 24th in Batangas, a province just south of
Manila. It was at a nice, snazzy hotel,
and we had a whole bunch of really good food.
And following Peace Corps tradition, we held the annual MST “Stache
Bash”, in which all of the boys in our batch competed for the best
moustache. They planned about six weeks
in advance, and vowed not to shave at all until the competition. It was quite a variety, and a hilarious
event. The first day of MST all the guys
showed up with unkempt, shaggy faces, and then the second night they crafted
their facial hair into all different shapes.
One of the guys had to resort to drawing on his face, due to his inability
to grow any facial hair, despite his efforts!
I’d say it was the highlight of MST.
Quite a fun time.
Our batch left the morning of the 25th, but three
of us stayed behind for another six days in which we were the facilitators of
the first Tudlo Mindanao Alternative Learning System English Language
Camp! Tudlo Mindanao is a 10 year-old Peace
Corps program partnered with USAID, in which PCVs work with Mindanaoan
counterparts to train the teachers of Mindanao, an area of the Philippines that
we are not allowed to go because of safety and security issues. This was, undoubtedly, my favorite experience
of my service so far. I had more
conversations, laughs, and special moments with the Filipino participants than
I have had in a whole 17 months in this country.
The way that the camp works is that a month in advance (as I
mentioned above), the PCVs and Mindanaoan counterparts meet and plan their
lessons together. Then during the camp,
they train teachers for several days, spend all day together, have late-night
activities, and after the closing ceremonies on the last night, there is a
cultural presentation. They taught us a
traditional Mindanao dance and we taught them a “traditional American dance”
(aka Cotton-Eyed Joe). The unique aspect
of this camp was that it was the last of Tudlo Mindanao, and its focus was not
training on English teachers, but instead ALS teachers. ALS (Alternative Learning System) is an
educational program in the Philippines geared towards non-traditional
students. These may be out of school
youth, dropouts, adults, or anyone else not in the regular school system but
still seeking an education.
I am so, so glad that I was selected to facilitate at this
training. It’s an experience I’ll never
Tudlo ended the 30th, and the morning of the 31st
I got on a bus, a taxi, another bus, and a jeep to make my way north to San
Juan, La Union for a music festival. Ten
of us PCVs came together for four nights on the beach to listen to a whole
variety of music, from reggae to pop, and even metal (although I think most
American metal fans would agree it was verrrry tame “metal”). It was really refreshing to see Filipinos
creating their own music and not just covering songs. We stayed up late and slept on the beach, and
spent our days in the ocean, playing volleyball and Frisbee, and watching the
surfers. It was a much needed relaxing
weekend, after a few hectic weeks. I
returned home the afternoon of November 4th, and PASSED OUT until
the next morning.
I was about to call in sick to school, when I got a text
message from our regional warden, saying that we had a consolidation. A PC consolidation is basically a drill to
see if the emergency action plan is working (slash, unofficially, if volunteers
are traveling “under the radar” without PC knowing about it). So the group of us in our area had to report
to a hotel in Solano for the day and stay overnight, as a drill to practice in
case there was an actual emergency. I
was glad to have a day to catch up on my rest before returning to school. I would have been a ZOMBIE otherwise,
completely braindead and useless.
The next three weeks were pretty tame and uneventful, which
I was glad for. I was going through a
bit of a rough patch, and staying in one place was good for me, I think. Plus, I had to get ready for Thanksgiving in
Sagada! Since 2003, PCVs have been
traveling up to Sagada, Mountain Province to celebrate Thanksgiving together. We carried on the tradition for the 10th
year in a row on November 30th.
I know, I know, it wasn’t the real Thanksgiving. But that day was a Filipino holiday, so none
of us had work. Anyways, it was
amazing. 26 of us came together, and
were joined by two other American volunteers and a few stray travelers met
along the way. We had EVERYTHING, and it
We had mac and cheese, salad, cheese curds, stuffing, green
bean casserole, American-style chopsuey, veggie quiche, mashed potatoes, cheesy
potatoes, potato wedges (about 15 kilos of potatoes, thanks to one of our PCV’s
students), baked beans, smoothies, cocktails, fruit salad, “apple” (sayote)
turnovers, pecan pie, fudge, s’mores around the campfire, and chicken! ~Okay, to explain, despite multiple
volunteers’ valiant efforts to catch a turkey, we did have to settle for
chicken. BUT a bird, nonetheless. Besides, we had to make sure to ghetto-up
Thanksgiving a little bit so it wasn’t TOTALLY the same!
The next day, a group of volunteers went on to hike in
Banaue, while most of us remained in Sagada to see the hanging coffins and go caving! Ten of us went on a three-hour caving trek,
and a smaller group did an eight-hour route to see the crystal caves! I definitely want to do that at some point
next year, but after the previous tiring day of preparing food and all, I was
good with the shorter route. Anyways, it
was still awesome, and SO much fun!
I arrived home the afternoon of December 2nd,
exhausted and happy to be back, belly full!
The following day I went back to coaching the swimmers for our
provincial meet. I had done so the previous
week before going to Sagada, and returning to some enthusiastic swimmers who
had been practicing what I had taught them.
The provincial meet parade was on the 5th, when all of the
student athletes of the entire province marched together to mark the opening of
the event. We had our competition the 6th
and 7th, and placed 2nd out of eight teams! This is only our town’s third year
participating in the swimming competition (second with an American coach from
Massachusetts!), so it was really exciting for us to do so well!
Then yesterday I attended a “first haircut” celebration at a
colleague’s family’s home in my town.
For Ifugaos, it is a tradition to let your son’s hair grow out, and
celebrate the first haircut. When I was
told about this, I was expecting the child to be like 1 or 2 years old. It ends up… he was 7! Unfortunately I missed the actual cutting so
I didn’t get to see the before and after, but I can only guess how drastic it
must have been! But anyways it’s a huge
deal; they slaughter pigs and caribao, feed the entire community… you know,
your typical Filipino celebration. So
despite how tired I was from the swim meet and all, I’m glad I went. It was certainly unique.
Now I’m back at school… the first time in 17 days! (Hey it’s not my fault I’m an in-demand swim
coach). I’m working on writing a grant
for our library, and I did a whole bunch of work on it back in November. Went to open it this morning to find it was
GONE. I swear I saved it, but it is
NOWHERE. So I had a bit of a
short-circuit brain moment, and had to step away and switch gears for a
while. Hence why I’m sitting here typing
out pages and pages about the randomness of life here. Of course, when I came in this morning, I was
informed that we are celebrating “International Education Week” (which I think
is made-up. I’ve never heard of it
before.), and that all afternoon classes are cancelled so we can play
games. So yes, I will be spending the
afternoon facilitating English games.
The students are getting in groups and rotating from one class to the
next, each based on a different subject.
I have one game about syllables and one about adverbs. I hope they’re fun.
I’m really excited for next week; the PCVs in our region
have been invited to the US Ambassador’s residence in Baguio on the 18th
for a holiday party! So we get all
dressed up and snazzy, and get to hang out together and schmooze with all sorts
of important people! Plus I’m getting a
haircut, the first since last December, thank goodness. My poor hair feels like straw and looks
insane. Then Christmas vacation starts
the 22nd, and the following day I travel to my friend’s site in Isabela,
where we will go caving and spend Christmas together. I return home the 26th, unpack,
relax for a day, repack, and leave the night of the 28th for Manila,
because on the 30th, my friends and I fly to Palawan! It’s a really long island in the western
Visayas. There’s a lot of beautiful
places to go there, and lots to see. I’m
sooo excited! We’ll spend New Year’s
there, and actually stay until January 9th! Cool, because it’s a nice extended break
before a long stretch of time at site.
Not to say that I don’t like being at site; I really
do! But it’s mentally exhausting. I think many PCVs would agree that being in
our situation poses so many daily challenges, that taking breaks is really
important to maintaining your sanity and happiness. But it’s weird to think that once I’m back in
January, I’m really approaching the home stretch of my service! I’ll be finishing either in August or
September, depending on my projects at work.
And I know once the new year is here (assuming the world doesn’t end in
2012), time is going to just start flyyyyying by. Per usual, I have many plans in the works,
and time flies when you’re busy!
I hope I’m not such a dodo and don’t leave you hanging for
another 3+ months until my next blog.
I’ll do my best to post soon after I return from Palawan. Hope all is well on the other side of the
globe, merry Christmahannukwanzakah, and happy new year!