Tuesday, April 30, 2013

On a hot, hot day in... April

…(name that Raffi song)  School’s out for the summer!  Has been for a while, actually, I just haven’t been here.  As many of you know, I took a two-week hiatus from the Philippines and spent some time back in the States with my friends and family.  I’ll write more about that later, but for now I just have to make an observation.  I’m writing this from outside my school building.  See, usually during the summer I just do my work from home or an air-conditioned building.  However today I decided to make an appearance so I could talk to my supervisor about our library project. 

Now, if you have been to my site before, you know that the process of getting to my school isn’t a simple one.  It’s basically in the middle of nowhere, so tricycles don’t travel here unless they are full… which means you need to wait for passengers.  There have been times that I’ve had to wait more than an hour in town for the ride to leave.  (+PCPPs “Peace Corps Patience Points” for me!)  Lucky for me today, I was the last one to fill the tricycle, so I didn’t need to wait.  Thought I got lucky!  Then I got here, ready to work, walked up to the office and… doors and windows are all closed and locked.  Nobody’s here.  I even tried climbing up the building (via the emergency exit ladder) to get to the library, where some of my work things are stored.  In retrospect, that probably wasn’t the best idea seeing as I’m wearing flip flops and not my Spidey-suit. 

So I texted my supervisor… like an hour ago… and I’m just waiting for a response to see if she’s planning on coming in today.  Sometimes she does her work at the provincial office though, so it’s a toss-up if she’ll be here.  However I don’t want to leave if she’s eventually going to come.  Is this silly of me?  Anyways you’d think I’d be reeling mad.  But it’s actually quite beautiful here.  There’s a nice breeze rustling through the trees, it’s super quiet, and all I hear are the birds and critters around me.  Every now and then I hear a motorcycle ride by and kids playing in the neighborhood, but otherwise it’s just me and the clicks of my keyboard.  Funny how a situation can completely change based on how you look at it J

Just the other day I was informed that I have been granted a year-long extension of my Peace Corps contract!  I applied about one month ago and have been waiting on pins and needles ever since, so… Yay!  Now my official Close-of-Service date is October 22, 2014 (also a certain awesome brother’s 22nd birthday)!  The great perk of being granted a full year extension is that I get a paid month leave to go home.  So, friends and family, see you in December!!  I’m super excited for year THREE, especially because of all the work I’ll be able to get done.  Although I had a really successful year with my remedial reading students (average grade reading level of my 7th grade students went from 7.2 to 8.6!), there’s still a lot that I want to work on, as far as the curriculum is concerned.  I’ve also been asked to hold teacher trainings in my province for remedial reading, since many teachers were never taught how to follow a remedial reading program.

Second, my grant application for our school’s library was approved last month, and we’re ready to get going on it!  From January to March, I worked with a group of students to teach them about the ins and outs of a library, and this June they will conduct our school-wide trainings!  I’ll be there to support them, but they will be in charge.  My rationale for this is that the students will be able to do this again at the beginning of every school year, even after I’m gone.  Sustainability!!  Anyways, we’re going to be doing a major HGTV-esque makeover on our library.  Fixing windows, tables, chairs, shelves, getting book donations (learning how to write thank-you notes!), cataloging the entire library collection, getting new lounge furniture, fans, and so on.  We should call up Xhibit for a “Pimp My Ride: Library Edition.”  Anyone think it’d be MTV-worthy?  Hmmm actually Teen Mom would probably win out with the ratings.  Oh well.

Just got a text from my supervisor- she’s not coming in.  Guess I’ll go home.

Awesome.  Walked inside my apartment.  Brownout.  Looks like a Solano trip!

Okay in Solano, air-conditioning it up.  That’s better.  Anyways, to continue…

THIRD awesome thing about my extension:  I’m going to be branching out and getting involved in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program in my province.  ALS is a DepEd initiative which reaches out to out of school youth and non-traditional students.  Sometimes these learners live too far from a school, cannot afford school, or are adults seeking an education (similar to what the American GED program is like).  Of course, there are many other situations ALS learners are in, but these are just some examples.  ALS teachers are completely separate from the traditional school teachers; they are often termed “mobile teachers,” meaning they move around.  Sometimes they go house-to-house, teaching.  Other times they teach in community centers, and sometimes just under trees!  It’s a really special, unique program, and I’m really excited to get involved.  Remember back in October, when I facilitated at the Tudlo Mindanao English Camp (I would’ve blogged about it in November)?  Well the participants were ALS teachers.  They really inspired me, and I’m thrilled to have this opportunity.  I’m going to meet with our provincial coordinator, so we will decide what my role will be, but for now, just the prospect is awesome to me!

Lastly, who even KNOWS what else I’ll get myself into during my last year?  I seem to always find lots of things to do at site and with Peace Corps!  This is just such a cool job.  I feel like I have so much freedom as to what I can get involved in and work on, and it’s all up to me!  For sure, there’s a certain level of structure to it all, but for the most part, being a Peace Corps Volunteer is awesome because you can mold your assignment around what YOU are interested in!  For example, one of my friends is really into music, and has started a big music program at her site with her kids.  Another friend is all about the environment and has started lots of eco-friendly initiatives in his town.  Another friend has a passion for working with children with disabilities, so she got involved in her city’s SPED program.  My love for reading and writing has turned into the remedial reading, library, and creative writing projects. 

I know the next batch of volunteers has recently been invited to serve in the Philippines, and many read our blogs (as I did, before starting my service).  So here I am, just plugging Peace Corps.  Figure out what your passion(s) are, and bring them with you!  Your invitation may say you will be teaching English/literacy, but in NO way does that mean you’ll be standing in a classroom for two years.  Granted, if that’s what you love, for sure, go for it.  However, if the thought of teaching freaks you out or makes you feel bored about what you’ll be doing (I know a LOT of my batch mates felt that way at first), don’t worry.  I promise, if you make an effort at integrating into your community and making connections (Network, network, network!  Thanks, Dad!), you’ll have no problem finding things you love to do and ways to help.  Peace Corps is going to ask you to send a final resume around this time, so include some of the fun stuff you do at the bottom.  That’s how my school found out that I used to swim and dive; hence I’ve been the swim coach for two years! 

Anyways, I’m super excited for Batch 272 to come in July because I will be the lead education resource volunteer at their Initial Orientation, for their first two weeks in country!  So if you’re going to be an education volunteer, I’ll see you soon!  Get excited!

Alright, back on track.  So, my visit home.  Not gonna lie to you guys, I was having MASSIVE anxiety traveling home.  Panicking in the Manila airport, as my plane was boarding.  Part of me wanted to turn around and walk out of the building… luckily the reasonable part of me reminded myself that I paid a ridiculous amount of money for the flight and could NOT be that foolish.  Anyhow I stood at the gate with my ticket and passport, wringing my wrists, tears welling in my eyes, just COMPLETELY freaking out.  I was the last person to board.  My flight was Manila to Nagoya, Japan to Detroit to Boston.  Got to Nagoya, enjoyed my last squat toilet, had ANOTHER freak out, was again the last to board.  Stepped into the terminal in Detroit and my eyes literally bugged out of my head.  Returning to America after a 21-month exodus resulted in utter shock.  Everyone was either:
1.       Overweight
2.       Tall
3.       White
4.       All of the above
I went into the ladies’ room to brush my teeth (yuck 12 hour flight), and I was one of the shortest women in front of the mirrors!  I wasn’t the only non-black-haired person, either.  I went into the bathroom stall, and threw my TP in the wastebasket instead of the toilet (a mistake I made five other times during those two weeks).  My goodness!

As I made my way to my connecting gate, people rushed by me.  Since when am I a SLOW walker?  My mother raised me as a proud “mall walker”- one who speed walks to get to the sales first.  Then I realized that I had spent nearly two years intentionally slowing down my pace to walk at the speed my coworkers, students, and most people in my community walk!  Even on the moving walkways in the airport, people were STILL passing me!  Okay grandma, pick it up.  I got to the gate and put my bag down.  I suddenly realized how quiet it was around me.  Although I was surrounded by 100 or so people, nobody was talking!  Everyone was looking down at their touch screen phones or tablets.  WHAT IS THIS PLACE?!  I had never seen anything like it.  I looked as far as I could see, and found TWO people reading actual books.  What?  Made of PAPER?!  What is this madness?  I stood there stretching, just observing in amazement.  My last flight was pretty short, and flew (pun intended) by.  I was THERE. 

My parents and brother met me at the gate, and it was a wonderful homecoming.  As I had just returned from my vacation also, I was pretty tan.  My mom called me her “brown child.”  Mom.  Offensive.  As we walked down the hallway to our car, suddenly my best friend came bounding towards us.  “I thought I was going to miss you!  I came as fast as I could!”  She’s a riot.  I went home in her car and we stopped at McDonald’s for ice cream cones on the way… I was flabbergasted at how big it was.  I swear, I’ve never seen so much ice cream atop a cone.  Ever.  When we pulled into my driveway, two of my other girlfriends were there, jumping up and down holding WELCOME HOME! signs.  My two dogs came running up; one of them recognized me immediately, the other (not always quite as smart) took a few seconds to realize who I was… it was funny.  And so adorable J

My friends and family all seemed so tall; I had to ask all of them if they had grown.  My dogs looked OBESE!  My first comment was “Wow, they’ve chunked up, huh Mom?”  She was like, “No!  They haven’t gained a pound, either of them!  Don’t be rude to the ladies!”  I then figured it’s because I’d only been looking at mangy, starving street dogs this whole time.  My healthy fluffballs were just a stark contrast to the former. 

I spent a lot of that week with my friends, catching up on life, everything that’s been going on since I’ve been gone.  I learned that there have been A LOT of changes!  I guess that’ll happen in your mid-20s.  New jobs, new houses, new boyfriends… these girls have been BUSY!  I’m impressed, for sure.  It was fun telling them about all the things I’ve been doing and accomplishing here… definitely reaffirmed why I want to stay for a third year.  Lucky for me, my birthday was that week, also!  Since I joined Peace Corps, my brother graduated college, started his career five days later, and moved into his own place an hour away from home.  So for my birthday my parents and I met up with him and his girlfriend, who I hadn’t yet met, for dinner.  (She passed the girlfriend test, J, in case you were wondering!)  Dinner was delicious, and I ate way more than I should have.  Kind of the tone for eating I set during my entire trip home, though. 

That weekend my parents and I went to visit my sister and other brother at their colleges, neither of which I had seen!  My brother started college just after I left for the Philippines, and my sister started a year later, so this was all new to me.  Very cool.  My sister is at a small private school and my brother is at a large public school, which is kind of a mix of my alma mater: a medium-sized public school.  It was really fun to see what their new homes away from home are now.  College feels like forever ago, although I know it really isn’t.  Just makes me realize how far I’ve come… which is weird.  I don’t think I could’ve pictured myself blogging from outside my school in the Philippines.  Kinda funny.

The following week was spring vacation week, which meant that my mom didn’t have school!  We went to see a bunch of my extended family, which was really wonderful.  Although the reunion was under sad circumstances, being around everyone made me really happy.  I am super close with my family, so all the quality time was heartwarming and much needed.  And now that I know I have my year extension, this break actually ended up being at a half-way point, which is nice.  It’s crazy to think how long I’ve been gone.  And that I’ll be home again in only seven months, and after that only another 10.  This all goes by so quickly!  The Peace Corps time-warp is strange.

Back to reality.  Back in the hot Philippines, where my hair is a permanent afro and I am constantly sweating.  Nevertheless LIFE IS GOOD!!!  May should be fun; I’m going to be down in Manila for a week working with Peace Corps on the training manual for the incoming batch.  Then we have our “Brigada Eskwela” (basically school clean-up) week, when we’ll be doing a lot of our library project.  Right after that is our freshman orientation!  Very exciting!  Sorry for the long lapse in blogs- I really need to make a note in my agenda to keep up with it at least once a month.  I’m certainly never at a loss for material!

Signing off.  Keep it real, banana peel!


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