Tuesday, October 8, 2013

“I’ve Been Working Like a Dog”

What did the Beatles mean when they sang that phrase?  Our two dogs at home are pretty darn lazy 23 hours out of the day.  Anyways, since the end of June it seems I’ve been working like… some kind of animal that DOES work really hard.  Maybe the dolphins at Sea World?  Although, lucky them, they play in the water all day.  I haven’t been to a beach or pool in almost three months.  Wouldn’t you think that living in a country surrounded by water, my life would be quite different?  Nevertheless I suppose it makes me appreciate the ocean even more when I DO get to go there.  In 3 and ½ weeks I’ll be going back to Palawan!  This time my friends and I will be going to Coron, which is a huge SCUBA site.  I’ll definitely be snorkeling it up once again!

To catch y’all up on life here: the first week of August my batch had our Close-of-Service conference in Bataan.  To describe it in one word: EMOTIONAL.  It reminded me of what the last week of high school was like.  Nervous excitement and enthusiasm, as well as some apprehension for what was coming next.  Of course, for a handful of us, Peace Corps deemed it our “Continuation of Service” conference.  The very last night of the conference, everyone went to the beach together, there was a bonfire, music, and videoke (of course).  It was sooo awesome.  My heart felt so full.  I was kind of a mess, knowing that this marked the end of an “era,” of sorts.  And that our batch family was splitting up and going our separate ways.  It’s really intense, how close PCVs get to each other.  One of my friends announced to the group at one point, “You talk to your friends about your relationships.  You talk to your BEST friends about your poop.”  We all had a good laugh at that, because I’m pretty sure all of us know some pretty graphic details about others’ bowel movements and bizarre gastrointestinal experiences.  That’s what happens when you adjust to the local water, food, and weather.  During training, one of my fellow volunteers was constipated for 16 days and every morning we greeted this person with “Good morning!  Poop yet?”  My apologies for sharing this with you all; I’m just making a point  J

So that was tough… I got back to site and tried catching up on work… then I left the FOLLOWING week to facilitate at the Padayon Mindanao Literacy Summit in Legazpi, Bicol.  It was super awesome.  I had a fantastic time.  Four of us PCVs facilitated the sessions with Filipino counterparts; my sessions were about remedial reading.  The other sessions focused on English skills and how to apply them in different situations.  One group talked about history and civic engagement, another focused on environmental awareness, and another was everyday math skills.  There were 40 participants: 20 from the Bicol region, and 20 from Mindanao.  It was a really awesome cultural exchange; not just between Americans and Filipinos, but also the Bicolanos and Mindanaoans.  There is a very negative stigma surrounding Mindanao and its people.  It is assumed to be a very violent place, and the people to be violent as well.  Mindanao has the largest population of Muslims in the Philippines, which I think also contributes to many Filipinos’ prejudices against them.  However I truly believe that these prejudices stem from basic ignorance of what Islam is.  Yes, there is more violent conflict in Mindanao.  However it doesn’t reflect the religion.  Unfortunately I think many Filipinos see these two aspects: Islam and terrorism existing in Mindanao, and they immediately correlate the two.  It was so great to see the participants meet each other and build an understanding of their ways of life.

One really moving moment was when a teacher from Mindanao spoke of how she was not able to return to school one day because the building had been blown up the day before.  The first reaction was mumbled laughter in the crowd.  Our Peace Corps program specialist, who coordinates and runs this whole project, immediately stepped in and adamantly explained that the speaker was not exaggerating; this was a serious issue and was not to be joked about or looked down upon.  Right away you could see a change in the facial expressions of the people who had laughed.  They hadn’t understood the true severity of the issues teachers face in Mindanao.  By the end of the literacy summit, those same participants were asking what they could do to HELP.  It was so awesome.

After the literacy summit ended, I made my way back to Manila, where I stayed for a few days because my PCBFF (Peace Corps Best Friend Forever) was COS-ing.  Closing her service.  We did some fun stuff those days, and I had a complete mental breakdown the night she left.  That was no fun.  However she gave me a bunch of stuff she didn’t need, so I added it to my collection of STUFF in my apartment!  Nice inheritance!  Once I got back to site, I settled in for a week and then left AGAIN to facilitate at a teacher training at my friend’s site.  It was really interesting, actually.  There were 100 teachers from the district there, and the content was surprisingly a bit different from what I’ve done here.  So that was cool.  Once the two-day training ended, I hopped on a bus and went back down to Manila.  Arrived at 3am, passed out at the hotel for a few hours, then got on a plane to Bacolod, Negros Occidental to be “peer support” at the second Padayon literacy summit there.  It was the same event that I facilitated at in Bicol, but this time around I was helping out with logistics and providing feedback and assistance to the volunteers and staff.  It was really cool to see the event from a different perspective.  I got to sit in on all the sessions too, which was cool.  Learned some fun activities I can use in the future, too!

That was a full week, and afterwards I returned to site, where I stayed for a full two weeks (WHOA).  Then, back to Manila to plan for the Padayon Youth Summit.  This is going to be super awesome.  It’s a 6-day camp in which we teach Filipino youth (age 16-24) to become leaders and facilitate events.  The first day we work with 40 of these youth on leadership skills; the second day we focus on facilitation skills; the third day we prepare for the next two days.  Day four and five will be a youth camp for 200 (!) kids, led by those 40 youth leaders we trained!  Day six will be a processing and concluding day, with reflection and training on how to plan these types of events in the future.  I think this is going to be sooo awesome.  It’ll be in early November, so you’ll be hearing about it from me soon.

My whole life I’ve always felt that my passion and calling is teaching in a school setting.  However one thing I’ve realized just recently is that my perspective has changed, after a lot of the work and events I’ve facilitated at here.  I do think teaching will always be a big part of my life, but I feel like I’ve been happier and enjoyed teaching more in an out-of-class setting.  Like with my freshman orientation?  Amazing.  My friends’ youth camps?  Sooo bomb.  My HIV/AIDS training was super inspiring as well.  I think I’m more about teaching life skills and youth empowerment, as opposed to academic material.  For sure I’ve enjoyed creating and implementing my remedial reading program; however I’m even more passionate about my library because I see how using a library is a transferrable skill in everyday life.  Not to say that reading isn’t a life skill, because it obviously IS… I’m not sure how to really explain how I’m feeling.  But what I know is that this is my THING.  Which brings me to my next topic!

A friend of mine who is also doing the Padayon program was recently telling me about an awesome event she had at her school.  It’s called “GLOW” (Girls Leading Our World) and it’s a camp that teaches young girls (high school age, typically) about leadership, gender stereotypes, body image/self-esteem, healthy relationships, and adolescent health.  My friend went on and on about how amazing it was, and I was sooo inspired.  So I texted a friend of mine, who is also extending her service for a year, and we decided we are going to do GLOW camps at our sites!  One will be at her site in April, and the other will be at my site in May!  We are going to apply for a Peace Corps grant, round up volunteers and local counterparts, and do the whole thing together.  She is an AWESOME volunteer and one of my closest friends here, so I’m suuuuper pumped for this whole project!

I’m at site for three weeks now, and I’m currently coordinating an English Language Camp for college students October 17th-19th.  Four volunteers are coming up to help out, and it should be really fun!  We’re going to do basic “macro skills:” reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  It ends the afternoon of the 19th, and that night I’ll travel to Manila to work with Peace Corps staff to plan the current batch’s Mid-Service Training.  They have been at their sites for just over a year now, and the conference is mostly used to support volunteers and provide them with help, ideas, or inspiration.  The one-year mark is a slump for many volunteers (including myself, at this point last year).  After planning, I’ll go to MST to be “peer support,” especially for the education volunteers.  This week our sector manager left Peace Corps for a higher position at a different organization.  While PC is looking for her replacement, the education volunteers (especially the new batch) will be without a sector manager.  Luckily all of staff is super supportive and will help PCVs with anything, but if the volunteer has job-specific questions, the sector manager is the one who really specializes in those issues.  Therefore, Peace Corps asked if I’d come to the conference to help out.

Right after MST, I’m taking my first break in a looooong time and going to Palawan (like I mentioned earlier) for a few days with a couple friends.  It’s going to be so nice to just relax for once.  I haven’t fully kicked up my heels since April.  Eek!  Working too hard.  Ha.  Anyways right after that mini-break, I’ll be heading back to Bicol for the Padayon Youth Camp!  Finally I return back to my site, where I’ll be for 12 days.  Then…. Da da da daaaaaa!!!  I head to Manila and then HOME!  And that’s HOME home.  As in, USA!  So I put my hands up, they’re playin my song, the butterflies fly away… party in the USA!   (Yup just quoted Miley Cyrus.  Whatchu gonna do about it?)  November 26.  Logan Airport.  Be there or be square J

P.S. Just realized this entire thing was about work.  Here’s a good anecdote for y’all…

Let’s backtrack.  One of the first nights at my host family’s house during training, I sat down to dinner and a (deep fried) chicken head was staring me in the face.  My eyes bugged out and my stomach flip flopped.  In the bowl were ALL of the parts of that chicken.  Now, to someone who had never eaten any animal that could be identified by its parts (okay I guess we do cook turkeys and chicken from the grocery store… but not with the head or claws), this was a shock, to say the least.  I stared down at my plate for the rest of the meal and couldn’t look up, especially when my little host brother took the head and happily knawed away.  That’s one memory that remains so vivid in my mind.

So last month our congressman came to our school.  When we have special guests we always have a big feast for lunch and everything; of course it’s a big deal.  Anyways I’m sitting at the table with everyone, and we’re all serving ourselves.  I put my rice and vegetables on my plate, and there’s a soup with chicken in front of me.  The soup itself was translucent, so I couldn’t see into it, but part of the meat was sticking out of the broth so I could identify what it was.  Okay, let’s get some chicken.  I stab it with my fork and as I slowly pull it out of the water I realize it’s a leg.  Okay, normal.  As it fully emerges, the leg is followed by massive talons.  For a split second my eyes did an instinctual pop, and I quickly caught myself.  Placed it on my plate; no big deal.  Obviously I had to act like everything was fine, and after a few minutes I realized… it wasn’t bothering me at all.  Then I realized I had made a major cultural adjustment.  This was totally normal, having the foot on my plate next to the rest of my food.  I can’t say that I ate the foot; that bad boy remained untouched.  However I enjoyed the rest of the meal, not grossed out by the “adidas” (which Filipinos jokingly call chicken feet—get it?).

It was actually a nice moment that I enjoyed to myself.  Integrating into the culture is one of the big things Peace Corps is about.  It’s one of the reasons why we get such a small living allowance each month.  We don’t experience our host country as tourists do; we are not “rich Americans” here.  It’s actually a really valuable lesson, and I’ve learned a lot from it.  Plus, now I’m pretty sure I could go on Fear Factor and eating nasty things would be no big thing.  Joe Rogan, eat your heart out.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home