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 forget.
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 was incredible.
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!